Another rant against Facebook …

An interesting anti-Facebook (FB) rant in the Guardian today from Tom Hodgkinson. I have expressed some reservations about this phenomenally successful social networking tool and what motivates people to use it previously on this blog, and I have some sympathy with some of his views. However, I fundamentally disagree with some of his points.

‘Why should my relationships be mediated through the imagination of a bunch of supergeeks in California?’ says Tom. No more reason than having your relationships mediated through alcoholic stupor induced by faceless brewery executives in the Far East – i.e. the pub – Tom’s preferred mediation method!

He makes big play of the ‘politics’ of the invisible men behind FB – should we care? Do we care about the ‘politics’ of those who provide products and services that we find useful in other walks of life? Who knows or cares about the politics of the people behind Amazon or eBay? They serve us so we use them – if they strop serving us, we stop using them. Given recent ‘lost data disc’ incidents in the UK – I’m more concerned about the competence rather than the politics of those who hold my data! I notice Tom has contributed to Murdoch papers in the past … enough said.

He pays particular attention to the FB privacy policy – with a spurious link to the CIA. In the same edition of the Guardian, there is an article about the FBI wanting instant access to identity data held by the UK govt – surely something significantly more worrying as providing this information is mandatory – you control what you publish in FB – BIG difference! Anyway, I see no conspiracy behind the FB privacy policy either – looks bog-standard for a tool of this type to me.

Tom seems to think that the only way for FB is up and that it does not balance tentatively on the fickle tight-rope of user favour … my view is that FB could collapse within a couple of months and might well do so in the future if we, the users, switch allegiances elsewhere. The ‘power’ in this relationship is with us, the users – not the suits behind the scenes (e.g. beacon advertising debacle). However, we shouldn’t relinquish that power through complacency …

Tom seems to hold the view that electronic connection is worthless compared with ‘real’ connections. The question is: have social-network-facilitated interactions replaced real ones or are they new interactions – if the latter then they surely can only be a good thing. He also fails to understand that millions of people use FB to organise ‘real’ interactions in ‘real’ places – ‘Far from connecting us, FB actually isolates us at our work stations’ – sorry Tom … for many FB is a means to an end, not an end in itself – this statement merely illustrates that Tom is not an active FB user!

The thrust of this article smacks of the age-old British disease … build-em-up, knock-em-down – with a conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure … an article which starts: ‘I despise Facebook’ is hardly going to be a balanced view on anything – unfortunately, this type of unbalanced rant is increasingly common in newspapers these days as they can no longer compete with the web for news.

Lest we should forget … Tom supports, through his articles, the newspaper industry … surely one of the most nepotistic and self-serving industries in existence owned by and serving the agendas of some decidedly dodgy characters …

To use Tom’s words: ‘Why on God’s earth would I … waste money on newspapers full of yesterday’s news and ill-informed comment?’

5 comments

  1. I absolutely agree with you – Facebook is very useful for arranging events, both formal and informal.

    It’s also fantastic for sharing pictures and news: lots of my friends have given birth recently (by bizarre coincidence more than anything) and Facebook has often been where I’ve heard about it first, or at least seen the first pictures. I’ve also been in touch with old friends recently, again through Facebook, without which I may well have lost touch.

  2. I agree but I think it would have to be “Up to a point, Lord Copper”.

    At home, I use Firefox, and like most who do, I use Adblock Plus, and you’d be amazed at how many fewer Facebook adverts I see.

    Despite Scoble’s battle with Facebook being about him breaking T&Cs (http://scobleizer.com/2008/01/03/ive-been-kicked-off-of-facebook/), I think it would be useful to be able to take some of your data out.

    Data Portability might address some of this, and I talked about this a couple of days ago(http://shaidorsai.wordpress.com/2008/01/11/trust-openid-vrm-data-portablity-and-how-does-it-hang-together/)

    In http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/goog-fb-data.php it’s noted that Facebook is joining the working group.

    I’ll not worry too much about the evils of Facebook. (I’d add that I learn *far* more from twitter (where I’m http://twitter.com/steveellwood), but that might be a side effect of who *I* follow.)

  3. If you take the example of my workplace, IBM, many people use FB to organise meetings with friends because they don’t want to or don’t have the time to sit on the phone.

    Indeed we also run a similar application internally that enables collaboration on projects, real life events and arranging virtual events, either in SecondLife or Active Worlds – not to mention the usual raft of photos, lists, links, videos and recommendations we share with each other. One thing it builds, especially in a geographically distributed organisation is trust.

    Combinded with internal blogging and social networking apps, I now know and trust more colleagues in Australia and USA than someone in the same location as me that takes no part in it.

    Tom sounds like the sort of guy who didn’t like the internet because we would all stop reading books!

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