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Let’s pretend it’s a Saturday night and, theoretically, you’re drinking. Then pretend that you wake up the next morning with only a somewhat coherent memory of the night before. You do detective work for the day, finding out what exactly you did or said and (hopefully) learn some lesson pertaining to your drinking limits. The night was bad, you’re embarrassed, but you move on with your life.
Unfortunately, Facebook makes this kind of thing completely impossible. If you were in the presence of anyone armed with a camera, you might start seeing pictures from the night before. Then all of your “friends” can see you pouring a drink on your head or passed out on a couch with marker on your face. Everything you did in your drunken glory is recorded for the benefit of your audience.
Facebook has made us feel an urgency to stay informed about things no one should really care about. People’s pictures are near the top of this list. This is well and good if you’re trying to show everyone your trip to Italy, but do you really want everyone seeing you leaning into a wall in the Village with vomit on your shirt?
We convince ourselves that these pictures are protected, that they are in a private sphere that can only been seen by an audience of our choice, but this is a reckless assumption. The person who took the picture put that picture in an album. All of their friends can see it, too.
You can “untag” yourself to protect your public image, but the picture remains in the friend’s album. If it’s especially incriminating, maybe you can tell your friend to delete it and, supposing your friend is a real friend, the picture will be deleted.
But where does the picture go? When someone deletes their Facebook account and inevitably comes crawling back to it, all of their pictures are still there. All of their friends reappear and all of their information is resurrected. This means that there is a hidden server where all of your data is stored. All of your data.
This means that the picture of you walking down the Alumni Walk with no pants is there forever. We use Facebook to keep up with the present, but we are unwittingly documenting our lives. Our wall posts, our messages, our relationship statuses, these are all stored. Everything we have ever put on Facebook is there.
Facebook has this information. What will they do with it? Have you noticed the advertisements as you scroll around on different profiles? These advertisements are directly targeted at the information displayed in your interests.
Companies are using Facebook as the newest platform for controlled marketing. This is fine, of course. As consumers, this panders to our interests as well as theirs. Now, I don’t get advertisements for make-up, I get advertisements for bass lessons and video games. How exciting.
I actually changed my year of birth from 1988 to 1959 and, since my status is single, I now receive advertisements for dating websites for “Over 40’s.” This is incredible. Try it. Change your interests, change your gender, change anything, and the advertisements will adapt.
Take this farther and it gets less pleasant. Facebook can use our information for “any purpose.” They have a perfectly chronological database of every single user. The more you use Facebook, the more they know about you. Other users don’t know who you look at all the time, or what pictures, but Facebook does.
Think again about our drunken pictures. What if companies looking to hire new employees ask Facebook for a complete record of your user account? Every single picture, message, wall post, interest, and note becomes their property. Facebook could even offer these companies messages and wall posts that aren’t from your user account but from the accounts of friends, enemies, ex-girlfriend/boyfriends accounts that have your name in them. And when this kind of thing starts happening, what makes us think we would know about it? The government, insurance companies, they could all benefit from this information harvesting.
Facebook is not our private sphere or our hip, young place. It is actually the most public sphere that has ever been created. Don’t bother taking your pictures down, your mistakes are already permanently recorded. My advice? Start posting pictures of you doing community service, going to Church, and diligently studying in P-gill. They’re watching.