We got the notion for this story from Chris Taylor at Mashable.com, who argues that the geeks at Facebook are so excited about adding and tweaking their platform that they are leaving befuddled an ever growing section of their membership. The latest changes have driven him to distraction:
Take the Ticker, for example, that real-time stream of information which now crowds the right-side of your Facebook page with a lot of distracting noise. Or look at the Like button: That was a very popular all-purpose tool that spread rapidly across the Web. Everyone knows what it means to Like something. But Facebook couldn’t leave well enough alone.
The changes in FB’s layout and Timeline storytelling are not yet implemented for most of us, but they will mean a phenomenal amount of sharing of your online ‘life’. Are you going to accept the flow of your information to the larger world, or are you going to take the time to lockdown or at least curtail some of your sharing?
The phenomenon is called ‘feature creep’ and most companies that produce most anything fall victim to it (double-stuff Oreos??!). Software developers are likely most susceptible because the coders can create new features with such speed and cheapness that they forget who in the real world might not need them.
In Facebook’s case, Chris wants FB to ‘chill out’ and find the discipline to keep the majority of its users in mind: people who want to post status updates and some pictures, and check what their friends and families are doing along those lines. Not share every second of their actual selves in their virtual universe.
Which might be exactly what the latest version of Facebook will be doing if you do not keep a close reign on it and on your privacy settings. Oh yes,before. We’ll be talking about it again. At this moment, the greatest culprits of (over?)sharing are the apps that want to be associated with you and your FB account. Once you give access for an app to link to your account, they stay linked. Your timeline in FB fills with your activities on the other apps. The sharing, please note, is done behind the two apps. You need not be signed into FB to have your listening in noted by your account.
The numbers of apps associated now are fairly low, but they are of course growing. Most of those apps allow opportunity for throttling back the sharing to some degree. Facebook itself allows tweaking of privacy settings too, and once the app is associated with your account, you can go back into your account and set some limits on the app in that way as well. Sarah Kessler offers a useful run-through of controlling app reports of your activities.
The opportunity to share what one is reading or watching with a larger world can have many beneficial effects. But it can also impose what the Supreme Court has called a ‘chilling effect‘ on speech or assembly. Reports have already been made that visiting porn sites can show up in one’s Timeline, even if one is not a ‘member’ of the site’s subscription offerings.
The easy moral response is ‘don’t visit porn sites.’ But what if one’s other habits are posted without context in a Timeline? For example, I teach students about the crusades, and I have occasionally read white-supremacist sites that try to make the crusades seem like race wars. Do I want my presence at those sites recorded willy-nilly on a Timeline of my day’s research? What if some of your friends-of-friends feel like your search for a vacation package to Egypt might be masking Islamicist sympathies?
Facebook users at least need to be aware of the extent of sharing they might be doing once the changes are implemented. They also need to take action to delimit the amount and kinds of sharing they want to do. The simplest way to keep your FB experience simple is simply to allow all the connections you are asked about to be made. As Chris Taylor argues, few of us will want that though such vigilance is growing ever more complicated, and many might jsut click through the ‘Ok’ buttons without appreciating the ramifications.
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Written by: Christopher Gardner, PhD