Facebook and the culture of total transparency

So … did ya watch the 60 Minutes interview with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Sunday night? You didn’t? Well that makes you, me and a few million other people, since it brought 60 Minutes its lowest ratings of the year thus far. Big surprise? Not really. I don’t think most casual users care so much about the creator of Facebook, even if they have an account, and those that are more invested in it (web marketing professionals and start-up execs, etc.) don’t necessarily hold Zuckerberg in such high regard.

So yeah, the Facebook piece was a bomb for CBS, but that’s not even the point of this post. Even if you could care less about Mark Zuckerberg, if you have a Facebook account – or a My Space account, or a Friendster account, or even just a blog – the issue of transparency in social networking sites (i.e. letting your online “friends” in on all of your business) is a huge issue.

It’s probably a bit ironic – if not hypocritical – for me to say this: a person with two blogs and six social networking profiles, and who spends a good part of her working day researching this kind of stuff, but I find this new culture of 100% online transparency to be pretty freaking annoying.

And this is really all Facebook’s fault. While Friendster, My Space and other sites allow users to have a selective level of anonymity through online aliases, Facebook allows no such thing, your full, real name is a required part of your profile, and your work, personal information and interests are automatically served up for personal consumption on news feeds until you select to have that particular feed removed.

This insistence on total tranparency, combined with Facebook’s very aggressive approach of mining this information for marketing purposes had certainly won a large share of detractors, which has been well documented. It’s annoying to me as a user; when I decided to take my relationship status off of Facebook (I use it for professional networking more than socializing) I got three messages from people asking there was a new “special guy in my life.” Three!

But, as an individual who manages a Facebook group for Association of Women Journalists, I will readily admit I’ve taken advantage of user’s openness about their interests to invite them to the group. And it’s an inevitability that I will be advocating a similar use of Facebook at my current job. Far from being dooced, I was actually hired in part because of my professional experience with blogging.

Total tranparency online as a default is certainly problematic when it comes to privacy issues, but as a culture, we’re moving more and more in that direction. Going back to the “good old days” of online anonymity isn’t really an option when you’ve got an entire generation of online users who are used to throwing their business up online to a “friends” list that consists of friends, relatives, c0-workers and total strangers.

Not to mention, anonymity on the web these days is seen as suspect. If one is not open about your identity on some level it’s assumed you have something to hide. (which is true, in a lot of cases)

But at the same time, I find myself not really caring if someone on my friends list just ate a cheeseburger two minutes ago or posted to a group of Clay Aiken fans, and I am sure my online friends feel the same way about my activities, and I shouldn’t have to work to not make that the default for my online experiences.

Comments (1)

I agree with you about transparency and facebook. The irony is, most of these acts of openness are shallow or pretentious. Facebook gives people the ability to completely sidestep depth in their relationships. It’s become a stand-in for real conversation over drinks or lunch, which is pretty sad in my opinion. I quit it not long ago and haven’t looked back.

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