05 February
2012

The effect and influence Facebook is pernicious and profound. What makes this web property especially damaging is that the harm that it does to the fabric of our culture is subtly concealed. The promise of the Internet, and its most obvious incarnation the World Wide Web, is that it democratizes information dissemination and gathering. Every person becomes a potential source of creative output. Whether it is political journalism, how to improve one's garden, the nature of the universe, or the subtleties of traveling through Europe, every person can collect their thoughts and can post their opinions and thoughts and reflections. The most obvious effect of this is to make far more raw information available to people on a timely basis. That's great, but it's only one side of the coin, and the other represents an equally critical step for our society. By allowing anybody to post their thoughts in the hope of helping others, it engages far more people than ever before in the creative process. This in turn, gets these people to think more deeply about their world, and about how they can contribute to it.
What's key here it that the web pushes people to think more deeply and be more creative, but that outlet and effect is very dependent on people believing that many people may find their information and that they can use plenty of words and space to describe their thoughts.

The problem with Facebook, is that by creating a password-protected space in which users interact, it prevents the critical access to information that makes the Internet possible. Information that users post in Facebook simply isn't out there for the whole Internet to see. More pernicious, and less obvious, it focuses people's attention increasingly on their day-to-day interactions with their friends, or the banal hijinx of their pseudo-friends, and focuses the creation of content, on petty issues that would only appeal to one's small circle of intimates. On top of that, information is always compressed into little bite-sized chunks. The nature of the discourse is more like a chat that a friend suffering from attention deficit disorder than an article, encyclopedia entry, or even one's personal diary. Other social networks such as Google plus, also suffer from this to some extent, but because Facebook is unusual in both its penetration and the manner in which it seals off its internal content from the rest of the Internet, it represents a particular low point. While twitter forces information into little dribbles, it remains much for open and is not likely to displace the creations of web sites or blogs, but drive traffic to them.

On top of that, there is also the issue of Facebook owning (and having access to) you email, photos and other personal information. This is not a concern unique to Facebook, but it's just one more reason not to love it, and it is just an invitation to abuse. Furthermore, Facebook has not been the most impressive net citizen in terms of open access, control over one's personal data, or the consistency and fairness of its privacy policy.

Now with the recent Facebook IPO, not only will Facebook be propelled into greater visibility, but more people will be trip be contracted to this kind of sad, dismal, descriptive business model.

One positive note for those who dislike Facebook, is that the attempt to aggregate large amounts of information into a single web property is universally led to failure. Yahoo was perhaps the most successful doing this and even day did not succeed particularly well. It is not clear that the combination of substantial information properties, such as newspapers, with the comings and goings of one's personal friends can be merged successfully into a single concise web presence. Furthermore, based on Facebook's initial attempts to do this kind of thing, there is little evidence that they're the ones who can pull it off. On the other hand the power and influence is immense and with large amounts of capital, they will have huge incentive for you to push beyond the limits of what they can do well today. Here's to hoping they fail dismally.

[ This article was generated using a new dictation technology. I am still stamping out all the strange misinterpretations. ]

[ More recent: A recent talk/article by Eben Moglen of Columbia law school also brings up the concerns with Facebook messaging. ]


By Gregory Dudek at | Read (2) or Leave a comment |    
Comments
Re: Facebook is evil especially because its harm is hidden

I just saw this post today semi randomly, reading the title I thought It was going to be about how abusive facebook's privacy policies are. In europe, up until recently, you needed to send a proper letter for them to actually delete your profile. Anyways I'm sure you know all about this but here's my question: Don't you think that there is indeed the need for a (semi) private "hub" or "place" like facebook? Wouldn't having all information public pose privacy issues? Surely if facebook was 100% public people wouldn't use it in the way they do now. For me facebook is just a communication/interaction tool to stay in touch with people that I would otherwise talk to once a year. I believe it can be used to satisfies various digital counterparts of human basic needs like communicating or "courtship displaying". What I find more interesting is that there isn't a very developed private platform, a place that is not meant to communicate but to shelter "your digital things", everthing today is focused on social networks, I'm actually working on something very linked to this topic at the moment. I hope you are well and a big hello to all MRL.
Jeremiah.

Posted by: Jeremiah at March 04,2012 17:47
Re: Facebook is evil especially because its harm is hidden

I kind of grew up with the Internet. I am now 71 years old. From at least the age of 10, I read science fiction. As I got into the 40s I kind of freaked out as I saw sf coming true, both good and bad -- medical advances (mostly good) and dystopian tyrannical society and mega war -- North Korea and nuclear war. Humans are social (eusocial for mammals like mole rats) and we kind of crave a "hive mind" like bees and ants.

The Internet was the first stab (maybe the cult we call religion was the first attempt) at a Hive mind. It's evolving. Facebook is the latest iteration. Creepy, creepy.

Posted by: Stephen at October 11,2015 12:09
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