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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Facebook: does the good outweigh the bad?

Everyone has their beef with Facebook. Since the recent rising of much ado over Facebook and their newly revised terms of service, many of those beefs have been voiced. I, for one, happen to have a few more beefs with Facebook; I, for one, happen to think it helps people become more self-involved and impatient & inconsiderate with others, rather than bring people together. Not too long ago, we would visit someone's website to see what they were up to or how they have been. Maybe now and then we would fill out and forward one of those surveys everyone posts on Facebook, partially due to narcissism, but mostly due to the desire that others would fill them out so we could learn about them.

Now, on the other hand, we visit Facebook to see if anyone has commented on our page, a photo, or a posted item... or if anyone has tagged us in a photo or video. We spend hours filling our profiles with information about ourselves, but little time viewing the entire profiles of our friends or family, as illustrated by the number of people who whine about how much "junk" everyone else has on there. We check notes to see if anyone has filled out one of those surveys... but not really to see what they're up to, rather to show everyone what we're all about. Many of us spend more time scrolling through our "friends'" list of friends than we spend on their actual profile page, seeing whom we may add to our own list (or if you want to identify this with the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, treating people merely as a means to an end rather than an end in their selves).

Not only has Facebook (as well as similar social networking sites, such as Myspace and Friendster) helped us to become more self-involved and narcissistic, it has completely reshaped how we interact and how much personal information we share now compared to how much personal information we shared in the past. Ten years ago, for instance, you wouldn't dream of discussing the drunken bash you went to on the weekend with the dorky co-worker who sits 5 rows down from you at the office, let alone show them pictures (or your boss, grandmother, or the cute, but "proper", girl who sits behind you in class); nor would you openly discuss your religious, political, or otherwise personal views with every person you vaguely knew. Today, however, no information is sacred. Besides, if you don't post the photo, your best friend or the snot from your gym class will post it for you... and everyone is doing it anyway.

Not all of us, admittedly, are there for self-centred purposes. But, however, be warned:

(would you really want this to be you?)

it's probably something that will soon be used (and most likely already is) in hiring and college admittance practices... so reckless behaviour probably isn't advised. Even if you sober up and remove the picture/drunken text/overload of information the next morning, it stays in the system forever. That's probably not a great idea if it ever happens (and this isn't highly unlikely) that government gains control over (or during this recession, companies offer to purchase) information stored in social networking sites.

Although it has its flaws, Facebook still offers a great opportunity for friends and family to stay in contact and positive business connections to be made. I'm not saying people should avoid the site; I am saying people should use the site carefully. It may help to note that Facebook has many privacy features that are fairly easily accessed through the privacy settings link that shows up when you hover over Settings in the upper right-hand corner of most Facebook accounts. You may customise your account so that no matter how much information you give, only certain friends put on certain lists can see only the information you allow them to see (although I shall neglect to go into full detail). Even still, you may recall I mentioned Facebook's recent change in their terms of service: Facebook reserves the right to use your information for virtually any reason it sees fit and will keep your information in is system even if you clear and remove your account... regardless of your privacy settings.

What about you? What's your beef with Facebook? Or, is it all wonderful in your eyes? I'd love to hear your side!