Somewhere between the excitement of the pure breadth of the internet and the desire to connect communities within it, Facebook was born. And the world as we once knew it has never been the same. My friends and I have casually joked about how we sit on the edge of an era, and we’re watching our counterparts on either side crumble from either too much, or too little, engagement with it. The irony of social media’s evolution lies in two places. First, instead of growing up with physical board games like Scrabble, people are playing games like ‘Words with Friends‘ with absolute strangers that they have no intention of meeting.
Secondly, there’s this: over the course of our history as a country, Americans have felt a pretty specific way about Big Brother keeping all eyes and ears out of their business. Historically, the people to report for the census have by in large been representative of the middle to upper class white Majority in America. By in large, it’s been the under-educated,the low-income and first generation citizens of this country who either lack the capacity to fill out the forms, our a residence at which to receive the census. As a Statistician and a Californian, I don’t put much stock in anything beyond AC Nielsen viewer data; but apparently the government doesn’t either, because they’re currently sitting on and turning to a wealth of data that we don’t even realize we’re contributing to on the daily. Yep, you guessed it: Facebook.
Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment, the government has always wanted this demographic data on citizens – but with something like Facebook, where we as users choose what to share, or not share – if what they originally wanted was a molehill, what we’re now giving them is an entire mountain of information. Every click, every mouse hover, every statement typed out and then deleted – it’s stored somewhere. All of your friends, and then non-friends, and even those sometimes boyfriends and your now significant other, they’ve become data points: documented, analyzed and stored forever. On your parents, your loved ones, your future children, your feelings – they’re bitcode players in this new cyber-board game of the world.
According to Martin Smith, the producer of the exceptionally well done PBS Frontline series on ‘The United States of Secrets‘: “If the FBI came to your door and demanded photos of your wedding, the names and daily habits of your children, the restaurants you frequent, who you’ve called and texted for the past month, and where you’ll be staying on your upcoming vacation, you’d call your lawyer….But that’s exactly the sort of information we’re all sharing by living our lives digitally — and the government has taken notice in a big way.”
For the better part of the past decade, I’ve been an active, eager and more than willing participant in this social experiment. At first glance, they’re loaded words words but dive a little deeper and you’ll discover the unfortunate truth that it’s really not that far from it. Our Facebook profiles are a better mirror of pop culture than personality. In effect, they’ve become a written version of ‘The Sims’ where we’re allowed to embody and pursue any facet of our psyche – but now, advertisers profit from it and the government covets it. So, it’s has to be time for us to break free from the ties of social media.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried deleting your account – but I have, and I can tell you that it’s a paradoxical statement. Your account will stay ‘live’ for two weeks just in case you have buyer’s remorse of that newfangled free time; and now there’s options to essentially put your account on temporary pause instead of deleting it. Why? Let’s face it, over time there’ll be better, brighter and bolder ways to analyze your clicks, catch-phrases and chat messages, so why not keep it stored somewhere in a digital locker until you need it? From a data standpoint, it’s genius; too bad this is our lives we’re talking about here – and that’s no one’s fault but our own.
Facebook privacy changes roll out on a gross level fairly frequently, but whether we’ve been made aware or not, on a more nuanced level these changes constantly on our profiles. It’s not that I’m happy to announce this but every month or so I scour the internet in search of the latest in Facebook’s privacy predilection. Partially, because I’m curious – and the other part, is as active as I am online I also want to be aware of how my data’s being used, especially if it’s being used without my permission. There are so many uninformed people simply giving into this seemingly self gratifying system of social media – and I can say this, because I was one of them; but I’m not anymore and I’d love to share the wealth of my information. So, take some notes as I show y’all how to take back the reigns of your Facebook privacy settings.
Earlier in May, Facebook altered the standard sharing setting of new users from ‘Public’ to ‘Friends’ – which was always a head scratching moment for me – and they let in on a new feature ‘audio sampling.’ If opted, Facebook can now access the microphone (if opted) and pick up on the soundtrack of your day, whether it’s ‘The Breakfast Club’ or ‘NOISIA’.
One thing that’s never made much sense to me was why Facebook Messenger needed a standalone application; sure, the UI is a little bit nicer, but functionality wise they do the same thing. In the back of my always moving mind, it makes me wonder if it’s simply to store an even bigger wealth of user data for analysis. So, it came as very little shock to me to me that Facebook continues to roll out impressive bold options with dire consequences.
Just this week, there are two tweaks coming to the application that yes, helps streamline the process – but to what end? If we download the actual messenger app, we can not only send pictures – but now, we can record and send videos via the Facebook app. Video recording capabilities imply use of both the camera and our microphone, meaning that Facebook has access to both features on our phone. The punchline? Since Facebook is part of PRISM: the government has access to them, too. There’s an incredibly quick fix to this problem: stop using the application. Yes, the stickers are adorable and there are so many ways to share – but put it in a text message and leave the third party applications (and the government) out of it.
Last week, Gizmodo – one of my favorite Tech sites – raised some red flags about Facebook’s new advertising policy. Since it’s gone public, the general public has been made increasingly clear just how much money Zuck has in his pocket and how much Facebook makes off of users via third party applications like Candy Crush and who knows what else. Now, in an effort to streamline ads (read: increase revenue) Facebook’s browsing through our browser data for prime placement. Thankfully, there’s a way to ‘Opt Out of Ad-Sharing’ – head over to the Digital Advertising Alliance on each of your browsers and unsubscribe those snoopers. As a general rule with all things Facebook: when in doubt, opt out.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about internet fads, everyone loves ‘New’ – and more often than not, the younger generation doesn’t want anything to do with Facebook or social media commitment of any kind (re: Snapchat). It should be as no shock then that Facebook has produced a ‘worthy’ competitor with a different purpose. With a catchy name and technology forward approach, Slingshot is a photo sharing app that only lets the viewer see a picture after they’ve sent one in response. I love the concept – like a ‘Telephone’ game of photography, but don’t for one second think that this data – like Snapchats – is sitting somewhere, waiting to become a statistic.
After all this time, the photo albums, the Timeline updates, finding the perfect words for a status only to know that you’ve stored the previous 27 awkward versions -Facebook has truly become the government’s ‘long con’- so, how much longer are you going to give in? Phone a friend, step outside with a polaroid camera, write your parents a letter – but become an active participant in your life, as opposed to a passive member of this Matrix.