Saturday, June 26, 2010

alarming developments on facebook

Actually, they may not even be new, but I found them alarming nevertheless. I have recently got in touch with another round of lost friends on Facebook; these were lost (to me) for over thirty years, so it was really good to reconnect, and I as much as anyone appreciate having these people, from way back, still be in my life, or in my life again.

But while trolling around, and while chatting with my sister, who is a semi-famous musician, I found two pages, well three, really, though one is not on Facebook- that disturbed me greatly. I'm sure Facebook's intent was not malicious here; actually, I'm not even totally sure Facebook was behind them. But I'm pretty sure they were, and I'm pretty sure that when people truly understand what is going on, they will be as alarmed as I am.

The first was called "Hiking" and was one of those pages you click "Like" on and become one of hundreds of people who "like" "hiking". Nine of my friends were already on there! A picture of someone strolling at the top graced the page. Information about hiking made the page more attractive. What's not to like?

Further down the page was a twitter-like section where every status that included the word "hiking" appeared; these rolled in at the rate of about one a minute. In one, a woman said that she enjoyed hiking so much she was off alcohol for a day or two. In another, some people said they were in the deepest mountains for a week.

These posts were aggregated because they all contained the word "hiking" as Twitter would aggregate anything that anyone wanted to put in a single place, like #iranrevolution. The hashtag innovation made it possible for people to "collect" information about a single topic and I'm sure that's what Facebook had in mind. Innocent, useful, innovative, right? NO.

I'm sure the first woman was NOT AWARE that the entire world could now see her status; she may have been thinking that only her friends, or her network, could see it. That's what I thought too. I've cast a fairly wide net for "friends" but I'm satisfied with each status, that that 400 are the ones who will read it, and not many others; I'm a little aggravated that "aggregators" are out there snatching up stuff that contains single words. The second group of people may now be miffed that having an address in a city can be a big mistake, when someone somewhere knows you are in the mountains for a week. Big mistake! Or maybe, the mistake is putting anything on Facebook!

Another site that disturbed me was the Univision telecasting of the World Cup; here, I was watching Paraguay and Slovakia (?) or some such game, and Facebook provided a running commentary-window for people who chose to use their status to say something to the effect of, Go Paraguay! Most people were doing this, and the window became a kind of chat, compiled out of various statuses. But one guy was using it to argue, in capital letters, that the holocaust was a hoax, and he took on all comers; naturally he got some people pretty riled up. A running argument played out in the chat window as Paraguayan strikers tried to organize their offense.

Finally, while chatting with my sister, we noticed that a page had been set up with her name to be a Wikipedia-style collection of all information pertaining to her, about her, related to her, etc. Because its spiders trapped her name in all forms, it got all comments she made to family, doting on her nieces and nephews, snide comments she'd made on my photos, etc. It simply picked up these comments, and deposited them on this particular page, as if they were public all along. They weren't. When I comment on her photo, I'm aware that all her friends will see it, and I'm ok with that. But I'm not necessarily ok with the world seeing it, particularly guys like that one who was lurking around Univision. There are some creeps out there. There are people who will use this stuff to make mischief.

Consider some scenarios, which believe me have already played out on Twitter. Someone gets extra mileage out of a raunchy post just for putting certain words in it; those words just suddenly APPEAR in raunchy posts; some sites become repositories of raunch; our posts sit in there with others, just because we used some word; people like her have to watch that sites that carry their names keep a level of civility. It's already too much! The technology has made hyper-surveillance a reality in all phases of our lives (even making pages, automatically, with a person's name on it- thus making this page appear to be hers, or at least, about her; creating a kind of virtual echo, or chamber repeating and expanding everything she has said, or anything anyone has said to her or about her, and similarly to everyone or anyone who is deemed to be "famous"....

ach, it's scary. When I told her, she gave up, and went to bed. Delete it in the morning.

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