Why you want to believe the Facebook hoax

You’re probably over the Facebook privacy notification debacle of this past week. So was I — back in June, the last time a similar Newsfeed disclaimer made the rounds — until, that is, I came across an article on CNN, How did viral Facebook privacy hoax capitalize on privacy fears? The article itself is unremarkable. It describes the hoax, and includes a statement from Facebook and a link to Snopes confirming its hoax-like nature.

But one excerpt just tickles me:

While many Facebook and Twitter posts snickered about the hubbub, concerns about online privacy linger.

“It may have been a hoax, but it did not hurt!” wrote one Facebook user.

Yes, in an article about Facebook privacy, and in connection with a quote from someone sufficiently concerned about it to post the fake notice, CNN publicly linked to the profile of “one Facebook user” Ira Goodman. Now, I imagine CNN asked for permission before quoting him (lest it risk a violation of the Rome Statute), but my favorite part about all this: Goodman’s profile appears completely public. I see his original post, I see what CNN quoted, I see his other status updates, I see his ongoing kitchen renovation, I see dead people.

Basically, I see everything.

His concern, coupled with his wide-open profile, makes for a perfect illustration of the inherent contradictions of Facebook: you share because you want to, and you hope to share with only the right people — but you know it’s impossible to keep what you publish inside the protective bubble of your privacy settings. Some things will get out to Friends of Friends. Some things will get out over someone’s shoulder. Some things will get out when your account is hacked. Some things will get out when a potential employer also employs one of your friends.

One way or another, things will get out. Information wants to be free.

The real threat to your privacy on Facebook isn’t Facebook itself — I promise Mark Zuckerberg isn’t poring over your newsfeed — it’s those Friends of Friends, those over-the-shoulder glancers, those hackers (duh), those employers. There’s no use pretending that anything you post online can be truly private.

But we also want control. Or, we want to feel control.

I don’t think the hoax capitalized on fear, as CNN suggested, but on the desire for control. When you know anything you post on Facebook will eventually get out — moreover, when know there’s nothing you can do about it — you resort to “the law” in an attempt to control Facebook the only way you can, even if Facebook itself is the wrong target, and ” the law” is powerless to protect you.

As Israeli social media mastermind Sacha Dratwa put the problem two years ago:

Facebook is basically an enormous avenue on which every user opens a shop with a window display on their private life. With all the information you upload onto the platform — photos, interests, occupation, hobbies, favourite books, films and music, marital status, political leanings, dress sense — you’re handing over your electronic DNA….

We no longer have a private life. We’ve reached a stage where our bosses can find out what we do at home, where our children can follow our adult relationships, our colleagues can spy on us and advertisers can find out exactly what makes us tick. We’ve lost our freedom and the ability to do the things we like without anybody’s knowing about it.

The quote comes to me by way of an overly-lengthy ‘expose’ in the New York Times regarding an online photograph of Dratwa posing in blackface “Obama style” he once shared publicly — where else? — on Facebook.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s