Oct 132011
Authors: Jordan Lavelle

Before you read the latest “news” on Facebook and update your status about how drunk you’re going to get this weekend because of midterms, check this: Have you ever asked yourself, “Do we log into Facebook or does Facebook log into us?”

As our virtual identities increasingly become more of an exposé of our personal lives, rather than simply a means to socially network, it’s worth digging deeper to consider who actually wears the pants in this dysfunctional relationship.

As many are probably aware, Facebook’s latest modification offers a timeline that chronologically recounts everything the user has done since they joined. Facebook has also stated that third-party applications automatically share every action users take, such as what YouTube video they just watched or what website they recently linked to.

It’s always interesting to hear people complain and vent about the unsolicited changes made to their precious Facebook layout (bonus points if they do it via Facebook), only to see them continue using it, which is ironic to say the least. I should know; I used to be one of those people. But it’s one of those “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” situations, and most seem to acclimate themselves eventually — that is, until the next big change.

“Most people [should] understand that sites like Facebook are free to use for a reason. It’s not because Mark Zuckerberg loves you, it’s because Facebook and its peers make money from your data,” said Tim Whitlock, chief technology officer and co-founder of brand-promoting company Brandfeed, in a Sept. 27 McClatchy-Tribune article.

In fact, they make a lot of money. According to the International Business Times, this year Facebook is projected to rake in more than $4 billion in revenue, which is double what it made last year, with almost all of it coming from advertising. Facebook is a moneymaking machine, under the guise of a social network, in which people unwittingly give out personal information and intimate details of their lives, only to be exploited by marketers who use all of it to devise more persuasive ways to advertise.

With each new change Facebook launches, there is never a choice; eventually everyone must use the same design. But these tweaks often come at the expense of our privacy, forcing those of us conscious enough about our online presence to readjust our privacy settings, which is way more complicated than it should be.

“Ten public interest groups and two congressmen wrote to the Federal Trade commission in late September requesting an investigation of Facebook’s privacy policy,” a UWIRE article featured in Tuesday’s Collegian noted. “…Their concern was spurred by findings published by an Australian technology blogger, which indicated that Facebook had been gathering information about websites its users visited even after exiting the site.”

It’s becoming more evident that these changes are made not to benefit the user, or to allow “frictionless sharing,” as Zuckerberg frames it. But rather, these alterations take advantage of the average, apathetic, unaware user by exposing more information to third-party marketers, all so “you can tell the story of your life on a single page.” Really the only motivation here is money, and you certainly won’t receive a dime for all your hard work crafting that ideal image of yourself.

What are we to do when Facebook presents the perfect paradox? Since we aren’t coerced into continuing our use, we could stop at any moment and delete our Facebooks. But therein lies the problem.

Whether we realize it or not, Facebook is more than just a website; it has become an almost necessary extension of who we are and what we do. To abandon this social networking site is to miss out, to not be social and to not be relevant by society’s standards.

And let’s face it, we human beings have an inherent need/want to belong, to be a part of something bigger than us. I just wonder how the human race managed to socialize and survive before 2004 –– the year Facebook made its debut.

So before you add fuel to the flame of rants regarding the latest changes, remember that only you can prevent Facebook fires. Keep in mind that while Facebook never gives you a choice when it comes to adjustments that infringe on your privacy, there is always the option of deleting your marketer’s most trusted tool.

We should take some time to reflect on what’s actually important in our lives, and whether this whole Facebook fiasco is really worth it in the grand scheme of things. After all, we are not users –– we are used. For now, the only question that remains is: “What’s on your mind?”

Copy Chief Jordan Lavelle can be reached at letters@collegian.com.

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