Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pants on fire

The 'notifications' on Facebook, once a simple mechanism to let you know when some Friend or other had done something or other, now mostly consists of meta-Facebook self-promotion exhorting you to use some application or other, presumably so that more advertising will get more exposure.

Perhaps the most deceptive of these applications are the ones that lure you, including by the use of carefully designed weirdly-behaving links and the exploitation of people's unfamiliarity with the way Facebook works (not least because they keep changing the way it works), into trying to find out what your so-called Friends have been saying about you using those sinister applications designed for the very purpose of bringing out the worst and most malicious in the unwary who see no reason not to commit all manner of reckless remarks to cyberspace.

What these applications really do -- both the ones where you say what you 'really' think about your 'friends' and the ones where you find out what your 'friends' 'really' think about you -- is first to feed, and then to feed on, the naiveté, out-of-controlness, emotional insecurity, uncertainty and paranoia of the young, who are, of course, Facebook's main target. For Facebook is mainly a massive market research tool, hunting the baby dollar. Observe, for example, the 'notification' that has just popped up this morning:

Good friendships are based on honest opinions! Are you curious to know what your friends really think about you?

Good friendships based on honest opinions? Are they serious? In my by now rather extensive experience, good friendships rely on the occasional and loving suppression of honest opinions.

(Note also the heinous valorising of opinion as such -- which is perhaps the single most overrated commodity of our time -- that has taken over most of what used to be intellectual life and wrecked newspapers forever. The MSM ought not to be blaming The Internet for its own demise, but rather its own foolishness in having drunk the Opinion kool-aid. Facts, dudes. Analysis. All the good, disciplined, clear-eyed, neutrally-expressed, non-visceral things you used to do so well.)

But I digress. Am I curious to know what my friends really think about me? No I am not. I love and trust my friends, would never expect them to give me a perfect report card, and flatter myself that if anything about me is seriously annoying them then I will probably be able to tell. (Possibly not to do anything about it, mind. But certainly to tell.)

Look at the evilly paranoia-inducing vulnerability-creating-and-exploiting wording of that question, with that word 'really' implying that your friends 'really' think something quite different from what they're saying, that you are being lied to and betrayed, that your friends are not really your friends at all but rather acting on some cruel and horrid secret motivation in pretending to like you. We, Facebook, are your only true friends. Want to find out The Truth and stop being the pathetically deluded patsy that we know you really are? Why, just click on this handy link, and we'll take you straight to a site where you have to enter your mobile number to proceed and then you will never, ever be free of us or any of the people who are paying us all will be revealed.

One aspect of contemporary education that gives me real hope for future generations is the rise of media studies: kids are a million times more aware and critical of the media's manipulations, especially in advertising, than was the case a generation ago. I don't know whether the same kind of techniques for critical analysis are now being taught with respect to new media, but I hope they are. I'd like to think that the kids being targeted by Facebook have actually got its number.


Ampersand Duck said...

I don't know. Maybe the kids of today have, but I got a Facebook email from a friend in her late 30s who had just slumped into one of her regular bouts of depression because she'd had some horrible Facebook ad telling her that nobody liked her or something!

I think they're soul-sapping enough flashing there at the top of your pseudo-scrabble game, but when people have REAL confidence issues, they must be devastating.

I'm constantly in gobsmacked awe that mobile phone spackers can get away with having automated 'help-lines' to determine whether UR BOYFRIND IZ CHEATING ON U'


Peter said...

I was getting a bit twitchy about FB last week, and checked my exit options. There were two, one allowing for full removal of all details.
Today, you are allowed only a suspension.

FB is definitely going feral!

Thanks for the post.

Zoe said...

Well, this is what I like about Twitter. It gives you all the entertainment and information of updates, including the ability to post photos, links, etc, without requiring your soul in return.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Yes, I think I'm going to have to bite the bullet and take up following a few very carefully selected twitterers just so I can find out what it's all really about. Can't see getting into it myself though. Everyone knows Taureans have no self-discipline. I'd never get any work done again.

*Abandons imminent deadline to go off and make Stephanie Alexander's chocolate sorbet in new ice-cream-making thingy*

Zoe said...

squee! ice-cream maker noob!

Apparently this is the go-to guy -

Zoe said...

oh, and you can lock your tweets so they're only visibly to people you have Approved.

Fine said...

It's so easy to get sucked into saying stuff on Facebook that really shouldn't be made public. I have FB friends wo are more professional colleagues than anything else and I always tread a bit warily.

froginthepond said...

Oh, the perils of 'friends' on FB! I left a workplace where it was quite common for colleagues to invite you as a friend - which of course left you in an interesting position regarding the bi&ch from hell boss who was suggested as a mutual friend.

Still, I think most teenagers are savvy enough to be aware of the FB manipulation. But perhaps they may overestimate their ability to control their input in social networking sites. It seems contradictory, but maybe that's the zeitgeist.