Sunday, December 4, 2011

To Facebook or Not to Facebook

Recently, a few of my friends have taken the decision to bow out of Facebook. At first, I felt abandoned: I love these people. Wait, why are you leaving? Frequently those with the most witty statuses and most interesting links were the ones choosing to leave. Or they were the people with whom I wish I could spend more time but for reasons of schedules and distance I rarely get to see. Like my best friend from high school.

I imagine that those on this blog will have a knee-jerk reaction: you are a professional! Get off Facebook! I wish I were among you. And now I am considering a transition from Facebook-yea to Facebook-nay. After a few days' consideration and debate, I remain firmly rooted on a rather uncomfortable fence. I seek your help.

Reasons for leaving Facebook:

* Facebook is a time suck
* As much as I love my friends/family, far too many of them use FB to express vapid, empty opinions and observations that leave me wishing to end our friendship. (sometimes, less really is more)
* Although I have tried very hard to scrub my profile clean, my associates (read: old friends) keep posting new pictures, stories, or embarrassing inside jokes to my wall. I counter each event with a note/de-friending/deletion/appropriate action, but it seems impossible to avoid every potential future infraction. And it takes only one accidental leak to an employer via normal means to ruin someone's career. Granted, my privacy settings are at their most stringent level, but some things can be found no matter how private you set your profile.
* Facebook collects your information and sells it to advertisers. (note: I am aware that Google does this as well, as do half the companies on the web in the first place, but Facebook seems to be particularly invasive about the process, by gathering information about me from friends' phones and changing my privacy settings automatically and hoping I won't notice)
* Facebook has my phone number and address and high school information, details that I purposefully attempted to keep from them, and it weirds me out that they collected this information through subversive ways.
* Facebook's facial recognition software is bringing me photos from my childhood -- aged 16 and 13 -- and recommending that I allow them to auto-tag my youth. I can't control childhood friends and family members from uploading such photos, but it makes me uncomfortable that their software has figured out who I was and where the picture was taken.
* Half my family is patiently waiting for me to accept their friend requests. I am determined to make them continue waiting, but it is getting awkward.
* The majority of discussions via facebook will lead to nothing: the hard-right will not understand the hard-left; the religious will not accept atheists as potentially moral people (and not rapists); anti-union people will not accept pro-union arguments; racist people will not suddenly decide that "illegals" (even apparently those born in the US and multiple generations in) have a right to stick around. It remains pointless drivel, sucking away my time. I do not feel like I am learning anything worthwhile from my facebook time.

Reasons for staying with Facebook:

* It's so damn convenient
* It recreates beautifully the sense of running into someone in the hall -- you have time for one or two quick exchanges before moving on. It's no deep discussion; we have email for that. Facebook is that sense of superficial persistence that only seeing someone on a regular basis can create.
* It allows me to talk to my friends en masse. When I visit Boston or London, one quick post lines up a series of offered spare rooms and couches, nights out and potential connections.
* It connects me to colleagues and peers who are scattered all over the world
* Occasionally, it makes me laugh. And laugh and laugh.
* Friends share articles with me that I otherwise might not have seen and enjoyed.
* Facebook provides me with access to stories that the big corporate media reports don't usually cover -- like the 84-year-old who was pepper-sprayed, or the truth behind Occupy or Madison's protesters.
* My opinion carries a certain amount of weight on facebook, as people engage with my ideas when they otherwise would stick to posts about babies pooping and kittens falling over. (But those are the very people I could use less of, so maybe that's a moot point)

Primarily, I stay on facebook because I enjoyed a childhood spread across multiple cities and 3 continents. Facebook allows me to keep up with my old friends (and more recent friends, like those in grad school or my first teaching job) effortlessly. This is the biggest point of all: how to stay in touch?

And so I ask you, miserable CMers:

Are you on Facebook? Why or why not? Do you think, in a perfect world, that professionals should even be on facebook? Are there alternatives to keeping in touch outside of the awkward phone call every 6 months or forced email exchanges?

Finally, should I sign off FB forever?


  1. I'm keeping mine mainly because there are so many people scattered to the four winds who I really want to keep in touch with, and this is the most convenient way at the moment. I have, however, taken advantage of their new "lists" thing and the retroactive post-privacy thing to keep only a few people really in the loop about the really potentially controversial things that I think.

  2. Next up, cat blogging.

  3. I'm on FB, and I enjoy it for all of the reasons you mention. I know people who act as though participating in Facebook is some sort of moral failing, and I just don't get that point of view. If you don't like it, don't join. If it's a time suck, don't spend time on it.

    I actually find the little details and pictures that people post about their lives to be touching and enjoyable, because I'm only friends with people I truly care about. And a lot of the stuff that gets posted on FB is stuff we wouldn't think to mention in a bi-annual phone call or holiday card, because it's so trivial.

    I love the photo sharing aspect of FB especially. Many of my friends and I travel and do interesting outdoor-adventure type stuff, and it's really fun to be able to share images of our escapades.

    If you have a crazy uncle who enjoys racist rants or whatever, you can just block his updates from showing up on your feed. You're not going to enlighten his worldview on Facebook any more than you would at Thanksgiving dinner.

    As for the issue of professionalism, it's just not relevant. I'm not FB "friends" with people I work with, and I never talk about work on my page except in the most superficial, positive tone. How I communicate with my friends and family is none of my employer's business, and it has no bearing on my teaching.

    With that said, I keep my FB page positive in tone and fairly "clean" in that I don't post pics of myself drinking alcohol, and I avoid obscenities for the most part. That's a nod to the fact that I don't really trust their privacy settings, so I assume that anything I post on FB may become public knowledge. In other words, anyone who isn't a friend or relative of mine would be bored to tears by my Facebook account. Hell, maybe friends and family are bored, too, but that's what blocking and "unfriending" are for.

  4. I, too, make luxurious use of the new privacy lists-- I have lists for sensitive relatives, for sensitive religious friends, for coworkers, for other people I know in the discipline, so I can aim posts at these populations or shield posts from these populations. You can also set it up so that other people can't post things to your walls (I know people who implement that feature right around their birthdays to avoid the jumble). I don't friend any students or administrators. I don't try to make it an edifying experience for myself or others; it's to keep in touch with new and old pals and mostly goof around, with the occasional godless liberal treehugging socialist rant (see lists above).

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  9. I cheerfully deleted by Facebook account for three reasons not even on your first list:

    (1) Friend requests from students are awkward. I'm not their friend, I'm their professor, and I don't want them to forget it.

    (2) Through friends of friends, it was putting me back in touch with people with whom I'd rather not be in touch. A characteristic of electronic communication is that nothing ever really goes away. But then, a characteristic of sophisticated technology is that it is often vulnerable to primitive attack. It feels so great just to pull the plug.

    (3) I already have a perfectly good web page, for which I learned html and have been merrily programming for 15 years now. Anyone who wants to find me can just type my name into Google, and it'll take you right there. I hate having to keep multiple web pages updated: this is why I refuse to have a LinkedIn page, too. And of course, I control all content on my web page. If it ever becomes a problem, I can pull the plug on it too---or at the very least, stop updating it.

  10. I initially succumbed to FB only because it seems it is impossible to get a coupon from a major company unless you "friend" them?
    (How creepy is that?)

    It is a minor facet of my life.

    There are a couple of local groups of interest I follow and it has allowed me to reconnect with far-flung relatives.

    Beyond that ... no student or co-worker has now, nor will ever, find me there!

    Though I am now in a bit of a conundrum ...

    I recently took advantage of my wireless provider's sell off of a tablet and have found one of those multi-player games which is constantly asking for access to your FB account to unlock other features.

    Tempting though that might be, I am keeping my second life on the (virtual) dark side all to myself! :)

  11. I have a Facebook account on which I post links to articles I've read. Usually left-wing rants. I also stay in touch with friends from other places. I don't comment on work, I don't friend my colleagues or students, and every so often I check to make sure my privacy settings are still set on maximum. I do occasionally contemplate taking it down though.

  12. Frod - You're like me. I keep a Facebook page, however. All I have there is a profile photo and a link to my webpage, however. I have the settings such that nobody sees anything except my photo who isn't a friend. I "friend" liberally, but not with students or people I don't know. I rarely check it and even more rarely post anything. It is a way of staying in touch, no more.

    The first few weeks I had my FB account it was a time suck. Now, it just scrolls by. Every now and then, I'll look at a few people's walls or browse their old photographs. Sometimes, someone writes via facebook instead of normal e-mail.

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  14. No FB here.

    I have a small online persona:
    flickr for photosharing, twitter *for reading* and light participation in a handful of online forums related to professional and avocational activities.

    I've lived at the same address with the same published phone number since Clinton was president --the first time--, and my name is distinct enough that if a long lost friend really really wants to track me down, they should be able to do so in about 15 seconds with a good Google search. Same for students who adore or despise me.

    There's little enough time available to stay meaningfully engaged with the closest friends and family...FB just takes away from that by asking me to equalize the value of folks on the margins.

    I haven't found one compelling reason to voluntary share my personal data with Mr. Zuckerberg.

    OTOH, I've got NO problem sharing 10 years worth of online purchasing history with Mr. Bezos at go figure.

  15. Yes, please stop FB so you have more time for CM! I tried FB years ago, and I too was troubled by students "friending" me. Beside, I read recently that the average FB user devotes 55 minutes a day to FB. Instead of learning the status of the cat of a girl whose father I knew twenty years ago (and will never see again) and friending companines, I use those 55 minutes to do my very SLOW 5 mile "run."

  16. I've never felt even the slightest desire to start a facebook account (page, wall, feed, whatever). I just don't really want to be in constant contact with everyone. So the idea of giving out my personal info just so I can be in contact with them has never seemed like much of a bargain.

  17. I like using it to stay in touch with some younger relatives as well as some old friends. My simple rule, never post anything I wouldn't want my Mom, my Minister, the FBI, or my Chair to read.

    Take a break from FB for a month and see if you miss it...

  18. I'm on FB. I use it to keep in touch with geographically (and sometimes emotionally) distant family and friends.

    I ignore the friend requests from students. Former students, though, sometimes get the nod.

    I never post anything incriminating on FB.

  19. Shit, I don't even answer the phone.

  20. I'm on Facebook. Like most above, it allows me to keep in touch with family that lives far away, friends who have moved for jobs or new duty stations (that's common in military life). Never with students, and only 1 person in my Dept. who I am friends with outside of work. I'm also friends with my mom, my dad, little brother and teenaged nieces/nephews, so certainly I'm careful of what I'm posting, but I lead a mostly boring life so there isn't much controversial that would go up anyway. I also find that my nieces/nephews friended me, but wouldn't friend their parents, which gives me the opportunity to be closer with them while keeping an eye on them. I don't share anything I read there unless I'm seriously worried about something they're doing, and it gives my siblings and sibling in-laws piece of mind about their kids. Win-win. I wouldn't get rid of it for that reason alone.

  21. Yes, I am on Facebook. My college encourages it as a way to build collegiality and also to work with students. I'm on board with the first part but not the second. It would require a separate profile, which I just don't have the time to do or maintain (at least for now). I use my page to post articles of interest to my friends and colleagues. I keep up with people I've known for years. And yes, I do play games (not the dreaded Farmville though) and have "met" some really nice people that way. It is a mixed bag. There's a lot of crap there, but there is also gold to be found if I look for it.

  22. This is really good advice on the whole.

    I think I will do the following: take a month off of facebook, see how it feels. Then if I keep it, start avoiding my own political or religious rants in favor of a more wallflower approach.

    I do hate the idea of muting myself, though. Like I can't be myself becuase *someone* might be watching. Sorry, I mean someone IS watching. Because they are.

    Einstein Program, Rapleaf, all collect information from Facebook and can "purchase" your profile for a potential employer, regardless of your own privacy settings.


  23. Frod (I think) said: A characteristic of electronic communication is that nothing ever really goes away.

    Yes, that includes FB. The most you can do is suspend your account, even if the option says "delete." Two of my contacts thought they were deleting their profiles, and many months later decided to join again. Guess what? All their old info was still there.


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