Point Embrace the Technological Revolution
by Kevin Lane
Counterpoint Selling Ourselves Online
by Cameron Dean
With great power comes great responsibility. Facebook, a social networking giant with over 500 million active users, has quickly become one of the most powerful social instruments. Not only does Facebook itself wield tremendous power, we—its active users—do as well. The responsibility both for ensuring that Facebook maintains adequate levels of privacy and avoids any unwanted future consequences falls equally on both Facebook and those who choose to use it.
We must recognize that collectively, we’ve turned Facebook into the entity that it is today. It would not continue to exist or grow unless we wanted it to. I find it hard to argue that the social interaction Facebook provides is something we do not desire; 50% of users log-in every day. There are, however, concerns that Facebook has grown too quickly, and there is not enough control over users’ privacy. Perhaps the consequences and implications of the Facebook revolution are too dangerous and unpredictable.
Facebook has clearly transformed the way in which we communicate, transfer, and share our personal and social information. It provides us with avenues of communication that completely transcends our normal spatial and temporal limitations through constant access to our friend’s walls and photos. Despite the joys of this network and voyeuristic playground, we should be concerned about privacy.
To address these concerns, we ought to fully embrace the process of protecting our privacy. Participating in Facebook is the only way to take agency in this social revolution. We are the face of Facebook; through our actions and networking, we shape the social atmosphere of Facebook. For example, 300,000 users participated in a recent campaign to translate Facebook into different languages. Like any social contract, we can collectively demand change and protest policies we find unjust. There is a reason why Facebook has overrun Xanga or MySpace: it provides superior applications and a community where each person has an equal voice (or face) in the network. The concerns are only a manifestation of our realization of the great responsibility we hold surrounding these new social powers.
Moreover, our recent concerns for our privacy on the net are affected by the realization of our dependence on Facebook; it’s here to stay. It is no longer possible to return to our previous means of social communication and information sharing. Facebook offers us a means of communication that previously was impossible. The sheer number of people whom we are now able to connect with and share information with is breathtaking; 70% of users are outside of the US. Never before have we been able to form, maintain, and sustain as many new friendships and relationships.. In the age before Facebook, the region in which we lived restricted the number of and type of connections we could make. As Facebook continues to rapidly grow, this capacity to form previously impossible social connections will also grow and develop.
I am sure many claim this new interaction is superficial and mundane compared to “face-to-face” communication. Though Facebook is still only a very recent social phenomenon, it has already shown the capacity to more efficiently facilitate interaction and communication. Moreover, the ease of social interaction through the medium of Facebook provides a strong incentive to continue that interaction in other social media as well.
Let me highlight a personal example. After my parents divorced in 2008, it was solely through Facebook that my mother found love again. Her former high school sweetheart, working as a comedian in Florida, found my mother’s Facebook page shortly after she joined the site. It was the communication and interaction through Facebook that motivated them to reconnect in person. After a few trips to Florida and continued interaction, they made the decision to move in together. Now, thanks to Facebook, they are happily married.
Facebook is an incredible social instrument that allows us to connect, communicate and share information like never before. While concerns of privacy are justifiable, we must realize these concerns are simply a part of the responsibility of handling our new social power. We ought to fully embrace this technological revolution responsibly.
In 2006, my high school made national news when it suspended twenty students after finding pictures of them drinking on Facebook. It was the first time that my classmates and I realized the potential dangers of indiscriminately publishing our lives online. Clearly, we were naive. Similar leaks occur today with such frequency that they no longer surprise anyone, and for the most part, it's our own fault. We alone are responsible for the information we share about ourselves online, but the sites that facilitate this sharing contribute to these problems. Advertisements benefit from information we provide and, as a result, Facebook encourages us to be forthcoming. This makes it difficult to protect what we post. Facebook creates an environment where completely controlling our identities online is impossible, and as the site grows, so does its potential to infringe upon privacy.
Rather than serving as what we hide, privacy is our ability to consciously and selectively reveal ourselves. Privacy is what allows us to control exactly what information we want to present to the world. It is not the same in every context, and this is where Facebook's model fails.
In a recent interview in the Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick, Mr. Zuckerberg said "You have one identity - the days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly... Having two identities for yourself is an example of lack of integrity" (199). His remarks describe how Facebook treats its users, but in the real world we do maintain multiple identities, generally without sacrificing our integrity in the process. Depending on the context, we present ourselves differently. Most of us do not conduct ourselves the same way in a classroom as we would with friends in a bar, or list our Thanksgiving plans on our resumes. Facebook, however, refuses to grasp these distinctions and instead dumps all our interactions and self-presentation on the site into a single bucket of "Friends." The rudimentary controls in Facebook to selectively present ourselves have been chipped away with every revision, and given Mr. Zuckerberg's vision, it seems likely that Facebook will only push its users toward more openness and less privacy.
These criticisms may be answered by keeping a close eye on the site's privacy controls- but what about the one entity that no setting can block? No matter how securely a user hides their account from others, the Facebook company holds and has access to all the information stored on it which it uses to sell space for targeted advertisements to other companies. The site's home page prominently proclaims that "Facebook is free, and always will be," but in reality users pay the company every time they list a new favorite band on their profile or click the "Like" button on a blog post.
Facebook's vast amounts of aggregated data only become more valuable as users freely provide the company with increasingly detailed pictures of their interests and buying habits. Allowing users to better manage their privacy and identities online would only hinder the ability of advertisers to reach them. Thus, Mr. Zuckerberg's statements about social norms are selfishly stated: more sharing means more profits.
About the Issue
Point author: Kevin Lane is starting his third year as an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan, double-majoring in Philosophy and Cell and Molecular Biology. Kevin is a member of the Michigan Ethics Bowl Team and the Pre-Medical Club and works in the Cellular and Developmental Biology department of the Biomedical Science Research Building.
Counterpoint author: Cameron Dean is University of Michigan senior studying Anthropology and Russian. He enjoys photography and tinkering. He does not have a Facebook.
Edited by: Debbie Sherman
Cover by: Rose Jaffe