In 2004, I joined Facebook, eager to communicate with classmates... then colleagues... now the world.
Although I've been a relatively loyal follower of the network through the years, one not-so-minor issue befuddles me: Why does Facebook continuously change its interface against the wishes of its users?
Facebook used to be a place of shared ideas, memories and creativity. Without advertising clogging our walls, we enjoyed rich exchanges. As ads moved in, our profiles began to lose personal expression. Favorite quotes and interests morphed into fan pages. Our "about me" blurbs moved, our amusing groups were dismantled, and Facebook replaced our selected contact emails with Facebook-specific addresses.
When I first saw Timeline, I cringed, not merely because my old garbage would be strewn around for all the world to see. I didn't want my interests and personality to hinge on the passing of time. I wanted my profile to be about me. Wasn't that the point?
Needless to say, I held out on adopting Timeline for as long as I could, staving off rumors of it becoming mandatory.
Then it happened.
I and the other holdouts lost our battle, our grievances aired in posts and comments. As someone who uses Facebook for personal and professional reasons, I'm particularly irked by the unreliability and arbitrariness of our new profiles. I scroll for minutes seeking old photos, comments, or video posts, often unable to find the content I need.
What content is included? What's held back? And why?
In a recent blunder that has not been resolved, Facebook Timelines began publishing private messages sent between users pre-Timeline. A friend and fellow attorney first noted this bizarre development with a simple, "I smell a lawsuit."
More than humiliation awaits users unaware of the content now dripping down their Timelines: their pages could reveal potentially damaging information. The repercussions of this privacy leak are endless. Relationships will be harmed, jobs lost, evidence collected.
If this glitch did indeed occur in error (which Facebook denies, according to another Huffington Post article), Facebook should confront it in a transparent manner. What risk does it bear in letting its users know that they should immediately check their privacy settings?
Then again, Facebook has never been particularly open about its changing interfaces and policies.
Naysayers will say: If you don't like the current iteration of Facebook, why don't you shut down your account?
To which, I say: Leaving Facebook is not the solution. Departing would amount to: running away from a problem; cutting off my nose to spite my face.
Facebook will continue to possess our information whether or not we choose to maintain a profile. Besides -- what social networking alternatives exist? Our communications, our businesses, and our friendships are now inextricably linked to this monster of a network. We know it. Facebook knows it. The rational solution? We work together to find a system that pleases everyone. I would, for instance, happily pay a monthly fee to use Facebook if it allowed me to refuse Timeline or more easily manage my own profile and its needs.
I would also add that when many of us joined Facebook (thus turning our backs on other services and would-be services), we had no idea that the network would drastically deviate from its original model. We're not getting what we signed up for; yet our hands are tied.
Even if management at Facebook neglects our desires, one would think that they'd take privacy concerns seriously given the sheer number that have arisen throughout the years. Here's to hoping the latest is resolved. In the meantime, change your privacy settings!
UPDATE: After publishing my post, I received an email from a PR professional who works with Facebook. The individual wrote to explain that Facebook stands behind its assurances that no private messages have been shared on user Timelines. As you've probably read elsewhere, Facebook states, "A small number of users raised concerns after what they mistakenly believed to be private messages appeared on their timeline. Our engineers investigated these reports and found that the messages are wall posts that have always been visible on the users' profile pages. Facebook is satisfied that there has been no breach of user privacy."