Facebook: Police State or Playground?

There are two sides to every story. The marketing trick – and the only way to generate trust – is to tease out the benefits while being honest about the pitfalls.
Take Facebook. On one hand it’s a brilliant way to reconnect with old friends, track down long lost family members and – if that’s what floats your boat – market your products and services. On the other hand, if Facebook was a country it would be a terrible place to live.
How come? It’s a thought experiment worth doing…

If Facebook was a country

The sinister side of the west’s favourite social network

Banks are terrible guardians of public interest. Tech firms like Google do not respect our privacy, nor do government agencies. The rot even extends to social media. Take Facebook. If it was a country, it’d be a really scary place to live.
In Facebookland the ‘authorities’ – the network’s algorithm – chooses the news you see. And they suppress updates they deem ‘unsuitable’, even though users haven’t given the network permission to act as their moral guardian.
It’s a country where you’re encouraged to report your fellow citizens for behaviour you feel is ‘offensive’, a disturbing thought since being challenged is a normal part of the human condition and nobody ever died through being a bit miffed.
Even more scary, Facebookland’s statute law isn’t clear. You’re never really sure what’s offensive in their eyes and what isn’t. And the sanctions those in power mete out are both draconian and arbitrary. It’s even commonplace for people to end up banished, in exile, like something out of a fairytale. And Facebook has no legal duty of care to its members, either.
Facebookland’s appetite for big data means you’re forced to hand over behavioural data with no chance to opt out. Your data, anonymised or not, is used to drive ‘personalised’ adverts, which you have to let into your home. In the real world you can turn the telly off or mute the sound. In Facebookland you can’t.
It sounds like a particularly dystopian police state. But it’s what we put up with on a daily basis.

Facebook as a social enabler

On the bright side, if it wasn’t for Facebook I’d have lost a whole load of old friends for good. You know what it’s like: you leave home / college / the country and before you know it you’re out of touch.
A few years down the line there’s no way you can turn up on someone’s doorstep. That would be weird. Phoning someone out of the blue is an unnerving thought, too. What if they’ve forgotten you / decided they hate you / aren’t interested in re-connecting? Even email and old fashioned written letters seem a bit too keen, a bit ‘out there’ when you haven’t seen someone for five years, ten, twenty or more.
Facebook etiquette is a whole different animal. It lets you hook up with people without the risk of hideous embarrassment. It’s fine to send a friend request to someone you haven’t seen since your school days, and it’s equally acceptable to ignore friend requests you don’t want to respond to.
Without Facebook I’d have lost some of my favourite people forever. Because of Facebook I’ve re-connected with a bunch of folk I’ve always regretted letting go of. Giles Schumm, Doug Maloney, Andrew Crocker, Kit Haigh, Jane Jorgensen, Angela Neal, Jacky Byerley, Nicki Barker, Pat Hall, Nick Stewart, Sarah Borny and lots more.
My life is richer thanks to Facebook. I hate the way their heavy-handed and manipulative algorithm works. The way Facebook ads are based on my search preferences and the stuff I’ve looked at online – AKA retargeting – creeps me out. I really dislike the way you can’t opt out of Facebook ads altogether. But, on balance, I’d still rather be on it than off it.

Would you leave Facebook forever?

In the same way millions of us stick with high street banks despite knowing they’re responsible for trashing the planet’s economy, we don’t leave Facebook. The network brings about a new ‘innovation’, a few rights-conscious people grumble for a while, but on the whole we put up and shut up.
In that sense, we get the social network we deserve. Unless millions of us defect to a land of comparative freedom, things won’t get any better in Facebookland and the tricky emotional balancing act I find myself repeating time and time again will continue.
Until a viable alternative to Facebook comes on the scene and the revolution begins, it looks like I’m stuck with it. Police state or not, it’s where my friends and family live.

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