30 September 2011

Facebook's New Face

"Facebook is like one of those people who keeps getting plastic surgery to 'look better' but gets the 'WTF just happened' reaction instead" ~ @Evil_Dumbledore

You think you hate the new Facebook update? It’s messy, and difficult to navigate, and not to mention – it’s driving you up the wall that all your Facebook friends hate it and are complaining loudly about it in YOUR feed?

Well, you’re wrong. You don’t hate it yet. But you might once you read this.

Let’s face(book) it – Facebook has been watching us for a long time. They know what you like – or what the target group they think you belong in like – just take a look at the ads in your sidebar. If you’re divorced they’ll advertize dating agencies. If you’re a woman, they’ll advertize menstrual aids or hairspray. And if you’re old they’ll advertize gravestones. Or something.

Despite this we’ve been led to believe for a while now that at least you have reasonable control over what you share on Facebook. Well, friends, that is what has *really* changed this time around.

Remember in the past, when you could post something on your friend Brad’s wall about your other friend, Jennifer, and then be fairly sure Jennifer would never find out,because she and Brad weren’t friends, and she thus did not have access to his wall? (A theory that nevertheless was not foolproof, because a) Jennifer and Brad could become friends, and then she could go back and read it; or b) Jennifer could have other friends (better friends than you) who were also friends with Brad, and thus told her; or c)some internet SNAFU or other could reveal your indiscretion.)

Still. Now you’ll have to be very very very careful with what you write about the Jennifers out there on the walls of the Brads. Because it now is “easier to control what you share”, meaning it’s a whole lot easier to share more than what you intended.

Say Brad is friends with Angelina, that neither Jennifer nor I know. Well. Whenever Brad comments on Angelina’s photos, her status, writes on her wall or does anything else related to her that isn’t any of my business, I am now being informed about it through the “ticker”. The ticker – the feed within the feed (go take a look in your top right corner if you haven’t already seen it) – reveals all your (and others’) secrets unless you’re being careful. The regular feed has in reality become obsolete – or at least nothing like we used to know it. It is now disorganized, split in “top stories” and recent (but without the old option of manually shifting between the two), and it is Facebook that determines what constitutes a top story (with some limited options of feedback from you, through categorizing people in various groups. I’ll get back to that in a bit). So, your old feed now shows only things Facebook thinks you’ll find interesting, while the new ticker shows this and everything else.

And by “everything else” I mean everything. Because if Angelina or Brad don’t take careful steps to control who they share whatever information they are posting to each other with, it’s wide open for anyone to read. For instance, Brad could post a comment on Angelina’s photo. That automatically gives me access to the photo and all the comments on it, unless Angelina has specifically restricted access to her photos to anyone but her friends. Brad, poor sod, has no say in the matter. (By the way, if you're worried, there's an excellent article about this that can be found here, explaining how you can restrict who sees what when.)

This isn’t new, though, it’s been there for a while. But, now this also applies to other things. If Angelina posts a status update, say, mentioning that she is hanging out with her new boyfriend, Brad, and her new boyfriend, Brad, answers with a , then I can see this, and report back to, say, Jennifer. (Not that it is any of Angelina’s business,anyway, to write something like that unless she is prepared for the world to know, but whatever.)

Thus, in a way, Facebook has made it easier to stalk others.

However, it has also limited our stalking options. First of all, you can control a lot easier who sees what if you’re careful. Whenever you share something, whether it is a picture, a status update or a link, you can choose whether you want it to be public (note: public means public. Ergo even people who are not your friends can see it), for friends of friends (which is a silly option, really, since it’s basically the same as public), for your friends only, for certain friends (you can target some people specifically, or exclude others specifically), or maybe just yourself (but what’s the point in that?). It takes a little more awareness in the moment of posting, but it is easier to control that those pictures of you in the frat party don’t befall the eyes of your mother (why would anyone want their mother as their Facebook friend anyway?).

Secondly,by making the newsfeed all wonky, the restrictions on who you actually are realistically able to follow up on limits itself. If you’re a compulsive Facebook-user (like yours truly), this might be a problem, because you really do want to know what every single one of your 789 “friends” are up to at any given point. The ticker is useful in this respect, but since it’s so tiny and still a little meh to navigate, it’s not likely to be where you spend your days scrolling down to know the latest on every person you know.

The key to effective Facebook stalking post the 9/21-change, then, is to categorize your peeps. You may not like putting people into boxes, but Facebook wants you to.There’s a box for people you know well (close friends), a box for people you know not-so-well (acquaintances), and there are generated boxes automatically for people you went to school with or work with. You can freely choose to add or remove people from these boxes, but be aware of one thing: they might get notified. The last few days you may have gotten some strange requests to confirm that you indeed worked on the set of “Interview with a vampire” in 1994. It’s not Facebook getting smarter, suddenly being able to read your mind (or, maybe it is. It seems to steal brainwaves from its users, actually), but people you know who worked with you that put you into one of those boxes. And all of a sudden, Facebook knows your resume, even if you never shared it.

You can also make your own lists, but before you create your “hunks I stalk on Facebook”-list, be a little careful. Remember the previous paragraph, where people got notified of when they were being put in a list? Yeah… So far this doesn’t apply to custom lists. So far.

In the end, Facebook hasn’t changed. Yes, our privacy has been further compromised, but then again, the change is more that we are now aware of it being compromised. The trick is, as it always has been, to share on Facebook only what you are comfortable sharing with everyone in the world. In theory, every picture, every quote,every everything you post on Facebook, is public. If you don’t want everyone to know about it, it probably isn’t a great idea to post it in the first place.


Dunx said...

"The trick is, as it always has been, to share on Facebook only what you are comfortable sharing with everyone in the world."

Exactly. Well said.

M.J. Nicholls said...

GREAT post. I don't think anyone really cares what their friends post on Facebook. As we've seen, you could write a suicide note and still have people LOL and !!!!! at your demise. It's a wilful distortion of reality and operates on that quasi-fictitious level.

Natasha said...

Fantastic post, Mari.
And within a paragraph of reading, I knew just who had written it!

Cruella Collett said...

Dunx - true dat. The main reason people are enraged whenever there's a change to the Facebook privacy settings is that Facebook successfully have fooled us to think that we can be "private" there. Which is wrong.

Mark - sadly, that is at least partly true. I think if a close friend posted a suicide note, I *would* react, but then again - I might not think it was serious. As you say - everything on Facebook is quasi-fictitious.

Natasha - I gave myself away, didn't I? ;) Well, I do spend too much time on Facebook these days, so I should be something of an authority by now.

Hart Johnson said...

This was great, Mari--and very informative. I think on my writer's profile it is time to 'group' people--it is just too many for me to read the ticker at ALL, and there are really tiers of relationships anyway, including a lot of people who sent requests and I accepted not having a CLUE who they were.

Unknown said...

Excellent post! You bulleted every point of concern I am having with the new Facebook format (stalking).