, Whos got one?
Jan 22 2009, 07:05 PM
Group: Local Expert
Joined: 24-August 06
From: Ottawa, Ontario
Member No.: 14300
Wait, wait, wait! I think I can cut and paste. But the link is probably best, but here goes...
Facebook Casebook 2009
The omnipresent social networking site won me a lot of new “Friends,” but at what cost to society?
Published January 15, 2009 by Scott Sharplin in City Life
I resisted its lure as long as I could, but on Jan. 1, 2008, I broke down and joined Facebook. A blog post from seven months earlier lists my excuses for holding out:
(1) I just started blogging, in the hopes that it would satisfy my need for online connectivity and social belonging. I don’t need to be informed (by Facebook’s skyrocketing membership) that I made the wrong choice.
(2) I keep getting robot-written emails telling me that people I vaguely know have added me to Facebook. Yet no one has told me why I’d want to join. “One of us, one of us.”
(3) The interface is lousy. The virtual tour tells me next to nothing. When registering, my “social network” options are: business or school. No room in this world for freelance playwrights.
In fact, my secret fears about Facebook were even less rational: I dreaded the ribbing I’d receive for switching teams after dissing the new fad for so long. Worse, I’d already heard horror stories about Facebook users getting “found” by ex-partners, schoolyard nemeses, or other unpleasant reminders of pasts best left buried. Would my first crush from Grade Six — the girl who laughed in my face when I asked her out — track me down online to have another laugh?
Little did I know I was joining something far, far bigger than an Embarrassing Reunion Generator. I was chartering a ride on the cultural flagship of 2008; the website that would change everything from language to police work to politics; it’s the little Social Operating System that could.
• The Toronto police monitor Facebook comments in order to build a case against the two teens accused of stabbing Stefanie Rengel. Constable Scott Mills says, “I could prevent violence more so from my desk than I could driving around to schools.” The implication: as a tool for discouraging young offenders, Facebook has outpaced the paddy wagon.
• Elsewhere, four young offenders are “outed” when Facebook pages identify the Camrose teens accused of microwaving a cat. Death threats ensue. When the local police try to shut down the pages, the posters’ righteous indignation spreads to include the cops. Apparently, Facebook trumps the Young Offenders Act.
• Meanwhile, I’m still awaiting the blowback from betraying my highly publicized principles and joining Facebook in the first place. So far, no one has teased me, and no old crushes have tracked me down. I end the month with 35 Friends and six concurrent games of Scrabulous on the go.
• The University of Manitoba disciplines three dozen students for cyber-bullying a business student. Students at the I.H. Asper School of Business posted the victim’s photo on Facebook and called him a “Commerce Creeper” (which apparently is a pejorative worthy of punishment, if you’re a business student).
• “Commerce creeping” might apply just as well to Facebook’s chief financial strategy: whenever a user activates an application, they give the site permission to share their private info (and all of their Friends’ info) with the application’s owners. Oh well; my private info can’t be any more embarrassing than my Scrabulous scores.
• A computer engineering student at Ryerson University faces expulsion because he was the chief administrator of a Facebook group that exchanged answers for tests. A Students’ Union spokesperson accuses Ryerson’s administration of creating “a culture of fear” amongst a tech-savvy generation of students. The expulsion charge is dropped after appeals.
• I’m experiencing more of a “culture of bewilderment,” myself. I’m starting to get Friend requests from acquaintances, colleagues, classmates, and long-forgotten chums; do all of these categories really deserve to be included under the single umbrella term “Friend”? I resist having to redefine the word, but how can I turn down Friend requests? I’ve only got 70, and most of my Friends have more than 200!
• Edmonton police marvel over the contrast between an alleged murderer’s real-life persona and his violent and tormented Facebook identity. Haldane Jensen-Huot, accused of an apparently motiveless murder in Edmonton’s west end, updated his Facebook status with comments like “Haldane would feel sorta bad about hurting innocent people.”
• After reading about this case, I become highly self-conscious of the way I use my Facebook status. What will people think if “Scott is having a bad day”? For awhile, I err on the side of specificity (“Scott is thinking about having a cheese sandwich for lunch”), but do my Friends really need such banal minutiae? Shouldn’t I spice them with pithy observations or pop-culture references (“Scott is wondering what they call a cheese sandwich in Amsterdam”)? Increased time devoted to status-writing begins to encroach upon my Scrabulous time.
• Graduating high schoolers in Victoria post photos of their grad outfits on Facebook groups in order to avoid “the ultimate grad-night disaster” — namely, duplicate dresses.
• Law students interning at the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic file a complaint against Facebook, alleging 22 violations of privacy under Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. One intern, Harvey Finkelstein, claims that “Facebook purports to provide users with a high level of control over their data. But [their] investigation found that this is not entirely true.” According to the complaint, users who select Facebook’s highest privacy settings are still unknowingly sharing sensitive information if any of their Facebook Friends have lower privacy settings.
• Instead of heeding the interns’ warnings about privacy, I decide to plunge recklessly into uncharted Facebook waters. After chatting with an Argentine exchange student in a cafeteria, I impulsively offer to beFriend her. Clearly, I’ve abandoned my former convictions about what constitutes a Friend. It turns out her profile is mostly in Spanish, and she doesn’t play Scrabulous. But the slippery slope has begun. “Scott is a Facebook slut.”
• Facebook lists 123.9 million visitors (ranging from regular users to singular visitors), tripling its number from May 2007. Facebook also becomes the second-most visited website in Canada, after Google. Ad spending on Facebook and other social network sites totals $1.4 billion (US).
• An article in Adbusters by Micah M. White (Google “Facebook Suicide” to read a copy) clarifies the financial strategy of Facebook’s investors and application generators: “The first step... was encouraging users to share information about their interests, favorite movies and books, and political beliefs that would allow Facebook to send advertisements targeted to their demographic. The second controversial step that Facebook took is to partner with dozens of online retailers so that when a member buys a widget on a partner’s site, all their Facebook ‘friends’ find out. This sinister system would be akin to my computer automatically emailing my address book when I purchase a book online.”
• Since I have over 100 friends but have only ever used one Facebook application, I feel as if I’ve beaten the system. “Scott is a Facebook agent provocateur.”
• What happened to Scrabulous?!? Investigation reveals an ongoing lawsuit by Hasbro (the makers of Scrabble) against Lexulous, a family-run company in Kolkata, India, making over $300,000 (US) a year selling ad space and marketing info (including mine). On July 28, Hasbro succeeds in evicting Scrabulous from Facebook. 54,000 Facebook users join “Save Scrabulous” groups, which suggests to me that 54,000 people fail to understand that copyright infringement litigation is not a democratic process.
• Neither is corporate web design; while Facebook’s new design is initially touted as optional, it becomes mandatory by September. According to analyst Ray Valdes, the redesign is an attempt “to eliminate some of the toxic threats to the Facebook experience,” such as viral spam messages. I’ve never received spam on Facebook, but when the “cleaner and simpler” new design begins to fill up with ads, I suspect the real “toxic threat” is insufficient profits.
• Over the summer, I tour a Fringe play to five Canadian cities, using Facebook as a promotional tool. It’s of dubious value; I can invite Friends to the show’s page, but how do I reach audience members who have no idea who I am? As an after-the-fact fan site, however, the page is gangbusters, and by the end of August, I have dozens of new Friends from all across Canada. But once my tour ends, I have nothing to say to any of them. I’m disheartened to realize that I was using Facebook with the same callous disregard for Friendship as the marketers. From now on, I resolve to use Facebook only as a social tool.
• Facebook becomes a political tool. With Canadian and American elections looming, users begin posting increasingly polemical status updates. In Canada, numerous candidates experience controversy over their own embarrassing online postings, including Andrew McKeever, NDP candidate in Durham, Ontario. McKeever issues an apology for his contributions to a Facebook discussion thread in which he “threatened violence toward another individual with whom he disagreed over Canada’s policy toward U.S. war resisters.” McKeever is not elected.
• I’m not running for election, but I start to get paranoid: am I becoming lax about the sorts of comments I post on Facebook? By now, my list of Friends has extended to include instructors and students at the college where I teach. I realize that, like McKeever, my future job prospects could end up affected by any offhand comment I chisel into the deathless stone of Facebook’s vast memory banks. But if I can’t be my personal or professional self, then what am I... besides a drone, a dupe, facilitating the transfer of marketing data and cash? “Scott is having an existential Facebook crisis.”
• Political Facebooking continues: after Stephen Harper’s dismissive comments about Canada’s arts community, hundreds of artists demonstrate their displeasure by replacing their Facebook status photos with the words “Faceless for the Arts.” I have to bite my tongue, because this form of armchair protest strikes me as even more futile than “Save Scrabulous.” Unless they are Friends with Stephen Harper, he’s not even going to see their status photos.
• As the U.S. election draws near, my American Friends begin “donating” their status lines to their preferred candidate. As in, “Joe the Plumber is donating his status to McCain.” It’s frustrating enough to watch the word “friend” slip away; do people no longer believe that a “donation” involves giving up something of value for your cause? Isn’t there some way to use Facebook which benefits somebody other than marketers and investors?
• I think I’ve got it. I’ve noticed that, whenever someone’s birthday occurs, a notification appears on Friends’ Events listings, prompting flocks of felicitous Wall postings. People clearly feel an obligation to comment on birthdays; maybe that can be channeled into altruism? Shortly before my birthday, I preemptively change my status: “Scott hopes that, instead of posting a birthday greeting, you consider donating $5 to the United Way. It takes the same amount of time.”
• My social experiment fails. Although a few Friends see my status and make donations, most of them only read the Events listings, not the status line, so I get birthday wishes anyway. I feel as though I’ve opened my front door to welcome the world, and the world has clambered in through my window and left me gifts I didn’t ask for. My Facebook pessimism peaks, and I consider the unspeakable: Facebook Suicide. Unhappily, it takes way too much work to remove oneself from Facebook.
• Taking inspiration from a South Park episode, a Facebook group declares November 21 “National Kick a Ginger Day.” Thirteen Calgary high school students and more than 20 junior high school students in Sooke, B.C., are suspended after assaulting red-haired classmates. This ends National Bullying Awareness Week on something of a down note.
• Edmonton police use filmmaker Mark Andrew Twitchell’s Facebook page to track his activities prior to his arrest for the murder of Johnny Brian Altinger. Twitchell was producing a film about a man who uses a female persona on social networking sites to lure another man to
• Canadians of all political persuasions convert Facebook into a soapbox as the Parliamentary crisis erupts. Facebook groups with blunt, polemical titles like “This is NOT a Third World country where rulers bully their way into power” receive thousands of angry posts. But Paul Boin, a communications studies professor at the University of Windsor, wonders how much of the debate is inflated or orchestrated by political party members. Boin says, “All of our leaders need to do a better job of trying to build grassroots public opinion, not Astroturf
• Boin’s comments hit home, and I consider changing my status to “Scott is only your Astroturf Friend.” However, I’m distracted and discombobulated to receive an “F-mail” message from... my first crush in Grade Six! The girl who laughed in my face when I asked her out! Incredibly, she writes to say that she’s sorry she mocked me, and she “missed a great opportunity.” Is this another serial killer, posing as my old flame to lure me to my death? No. Enough is enough. I choose to believe. I choose Friendship, with a real capital “F.”
• Oilers Sheldon Souray and Shawn Horcoff aren’t so lucky, though. They both complain that that users have posed as them on Facebook, creating up to four fake versions of each hockey player. “I’m not computer savvy,” protests Souray. “That is not something that has ever been of interest to me.” I’m glad I got my Facebook Christmas miracle, but I can’t help but wonder if Souray’s got the right idea.