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My relationship with Facebook is complicated. I think Facebook does a lot of good things. On balance, I think it spreads more information than disinformation. It helps people organize peaceful movements for change. My far-flung family is watching my kids grow up over Facebook. Facebook is how I stay connected to my former classmates and colleagues in members-only groups. Last week I had an impromptu, 30-minute Messenger conversation with a friend from grade school who I haven’t spoken to in 35 years and who lives in Michigan. I was grateful that Facebook allowed me to do that.
I believe that Facebook is also causing harm, though, by making social interactions superficial. People get more depressed and feel more isolated the more they use it, studies show. It’s too often a forum for bullying and divisiveness. It propagates fake news. At least once a day I nearly collide with a pedestrian who is too busy checking his feed to watch where he’s going. We’re obsessed with Facebook, and that’s not good.
Even Sean Parker, a Facebook billionaire and its first president, now criticizes social media generally as “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he said.
Despite all that, after carefully analyzing my downloaded Facebook records, I find it hard to muster any outrage about the personal data the company is collecting about me. Almost nothing I found alarmed me. There are 465 conversations, but a quick sampling reminds me that I’m pretty careful with my words on Facebook because I know my messages are being stored. There’s my whole timeline and a boatload of photos and videos, but again, I don’t post anything that I would be ashamed to see beyond the confines of my friend network.
*-One file disturbed me — the one that had the contents of my entire contact list, taken from my phone. This is just a direct copy of my phone book, which includes a whole lot of people who aren’t even on Facebook. This kind of data collection feels intrusive.
So, all things considered, the uprising over Facebook’s data-collection practices seems overblown. Should Facebook collect less of our data? Maybe. Should it curb or eliminate the ability of third parties to gain access to our personal data? Yes. Should Facebook, as a potentially abusive monopoly, be watched closely by regulators and reined in if necessary? Absolutely.
But am I surprised that Facebook collects everything I post to my timeline or send in a message? Do I feel that my privacy has been invaded? Do I feel duped? Nah.
Is Facebook Making Your Depressed? | Psychology Today, Oct. 14, 2017: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201710/is-facebook-making-you-depressed
Why It’s Time to Curb Facebook’s Power | Inc. magazine, Dec. 19, 2017: https://www.inc.com/jeff-bercovici/facebook-good-bad-too-powerful.html