May 2018

Facebook: More Than It Appears to Be

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Mark Zuckerberg’s grilling in Congress about how Facebook treats personal information about data privacy and his responsibility to users caused me to also give this some thought.

For some people, any amount of lack of privacy is bad on principle. I am closer to the other extreme: what does it matter if Facebook knows my preferences in books, movies, clothing, political leaning, food, group activities, friends, age, name, etc., etc. My major life dependencies, such as bank account, are secure. So what’s the big deal?

I like Facebook for contact with friends far away, their children and grandchildren. I like the cartoons and stories people post. I like seeing vacation photos, clever videos, and descriptions of new ideas. I have deleted most political posts because they are depressing.

However, I also wonder if I like Facebook because it sends me a constant stream of things I want to see. Given the opportunity, I check it multiple times a day. And I can do it anywhere I have to wait in line. Why just stand there being bored? Why read a magazine sitting in a waiting room? I have my personal escape hatch. I get news items on Facebook. But to be honest, I did notice that I am having trouble getting my monthly book club book read in time … too much Facebook?

The insidious nature of Facebook is this: it gives me what I like rather than a well-rounded variety of points of view. It increases partisan thinking and polarization, which is the last thing our nation needs right now.

In a New York Times opinion letter entitled, “I Can’t Jump Ship from Facebook Yet” dated April 15, author Kathleen O’Brien speaks to the issue of abuse of personal information. She states that, “Facebook allowed advertisers to discriminate by targeting housing and employment ads to white users only. Then there was the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which raised concerns that data and ‘dark ads’ were used to manipulate voters. In Myanmar, Facebook has been accused of facilitating violence against Rohingya Muslims by permitting anti-Muslim hate speech to spread on its platform.” Hopefully, Facebook and lawmakers can fix these problems to regain their users’ trust.

I need to think through what I truly gain via Facebook and whether its effects are helping me to grow as a person or insulate me from other opinions and other realities.

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