Have you ever seen this website, Failbook? It’s like a train wreck, where common sense and the capricious zone they call teh interwebs intersects and smashes into each other. Aside from being a really good way to waste an entire afternoon chortling at the despair of other people, it’s a great illustration of why so many people freak out about Facebook and privacy. People want to connect with their loved ones, friends, frenemies, and enemies, but they want to do it safely. They want to offer up their lives and everything precious that comes along with it, but they want to do it without any negative repercussions. Why? Because real-life relationships are hard, dangit, and if we can get the benefits without having to like, you know, actually be in the same room when someone is talking to us about something we could care less about (see also: World Cup), then let’s do it!
Well, here are five simple steps that you can follow so that no matter what Facebook does with their privacy settings, you will always be safe, 100 guaranteed. I’m serious; money back and everything*. Facebook can make your privacy set to “mandatory exhibitionist mode” and you’ll be sitting pretty while all of your friends scream and wail, gnashing their teeth, robed in sackcloth whilst sitting upon a pile of ashes, and lo, Mark Zuckerberg openeth the sixth seal, and all of thy pictures of totally puking all over that hot girl at Robert’s party fifteen years ago were transmitted from the housetops.
No, seriously, people. As the joke goes, nobody knows on the Internet if you’re a dog. I lie on Facebook all the time. Not really big lies, because then people will never believe anything you say. But under “Political Views” I am officially listed as a member of the Tory Party (I am an American). What people fail to realize is that all of the information you submit is completely voluntary. Let me repeat that: All of the information you submit to Facebook is completely voluntary. Okay, this time, I’m totally breaking a bunch of cardinal typography rules just to make this really, really clear: All of the information you submit to Facebook is completely voluntary. Complaining that Facebook divulged that latest note you wrote about how much you hate your mom to, I dunno, your mom who is also your Facebook friend is like telling the biggest gossip in high school who you have a crush on and then lamenting that everyone is now teasing you and defiled your locker with crude drawings.
2. If you can’t stomach lying, then don’t write anything
Like I said, all of the information you submit to Facebook is completely voluntary (I can’t repeat that enough). I know people who will fill out every single field that exists on Facebook for your profile. Facebook could ask for your Social Security number and I’m positive that we would have thousands of people filling it out.
If you don’t want people to know too much about you, then don’t write anything. I don’t write my sexual orientation on Facebook because I just don’t think it matters (plus, it clearly lists who I’m married to and if you can’t figure out my sexual orientation through context, I don’t want to be your friend).
Now, this doesn’t really make friends, since Facebook is all about connecting, right? And isn’t half the fun about Facebook derive from discovering things about your friends that you perhaps really didn’t know? If you are either deceitful or reticent in involving yourself in the community, then your information is safe but nobody will really like you. However, if you’re really all about just using Facebook to connect with some close friends, maybe play some Farmville, then not revealing a whole lot of yourself is fine.
3. Don’t do anything you don’t want to show up on the internet
Sure, you take care to not post anything too revealing or embarrassing about yourself. But even though you would never post really embarrassing things like your middle school portrait or pictures catching you in the act of embezzling, that doesn’t mean someone else won’t. And you can’t do anything about it. So how do you make sure that no really incriminating photos that might prevent you from a hot date/a job show up on the internet?
Don’t do it.
No, seriously, people. Don’t do it. Don’t pass out in front of your lawn in only your underwear. Don’t get seriously drunk or high and start jumping on your friend’s couch wearing only a camisole and your older sister’s thong. And for the love of all that is gracious, do not, under any circumstances, make the platypus face. You know what I mean. Just don’t do it. You look like a freaking duck-billed creature. Not attractive.
But that does eliminate a large portion of life: experimenting and having fun. Should we only live a life of clean-cut portraits, sitting quietly in our couches, contemplating on the larger mysteries of life, perhaps while reading a large book on philosophy? And certainly we don’t want to live a life of paranoia, wondering if anyone is waiting with a camera while you make out with your significant other(s). Well, that’s just how things go. If you want to experiment and have fun in life while not fearing about the social consequences of doing so, you could just try to not let these kinds of things bother you. But there is a simple fact that everyone should understand in this life which leads me to my next point:
4. Understand the nature of social networks
Does anybody remember the old story of a person who gossiped about her friend, but when she saw how such gossip hurt her friend she went to a wise guru to ask for help on how to eliminate the gossip? The guru told her to bring a bag of feathers to the top of the mountain and then to release them into the wind. Wait a day, then try to collect all the feathers. Our protagonist did so and tried in vain to retrieve the feathers and our wise guru then told her, alas, such is the nature also of errant words.
When we live in a society, we gain benefits. Internet social networks give us the unprecedented power to access communities that would never have before existed, specifically tailored to our individual deviant needs. When we join any kind of community, however, there are prices to be paid, and that price is a lack of privacy.
When I got married, my wife marveled at how easily the Korean community banded together to provide an incredibly easy time for my parents to throw a reception. Women got together early in the day to help prepare food and decorations at no cost and with no demand for recompense. People donated willingly to help my wife and I start our married life, even though they had little to give in the first place. This was something I grew up with and thought nothing of it. I mentioned it was a very cool thing, but that’s just how Koreans are. We protect our own.
As she became accustomed to a Korean husband, however, she understood the baggage that comes with such incredible benefits – people always asked us how we were, people we didn’t even know personally. They sometimes would ask personal questions. We had more social obligations than she was used to. And perhaps the biggest shock of all, people told you constantly what to do. They was, to put it colloquially, always up in your grill for something that they thought you were doing wrong or should be doing. And they dispensed this unsolicited wisdom and advice freely.
It drove my wife batty. Sometimes it still drives her batty to this day, though she now realizes why we do it. It’s because we as a community like to know what’s going on with everyone else, and sometimes, we don’t really care about privacy.
Such is the nature of a social network – you gain incredible benefits, but you pay a price for those benefits. As any economist will tell you, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Gossip certainly wasn’t invented with the internet, and so if you haven’t figured out how to handle people talking to you, then do it soon.
5. Realize that you are a hypocrite
Be honest with yourself – why do you like to befriend people you’ve never talked to for years but suddenly sent a friend request to you out of the blue?
We love learning about other people, especially people we have connections with, no matter how faint. Sometimes I like to see how old high school classmates are doing, even though I normally would never talk to them in real life. It’s just how it is. We love to see other people and we love to see how they’re doing.
But it’s not very private, is it? And that is the argument of the last point. What exactly are you mad about when Facebook says everyone can see what you’re doing? If you really have some incriminating or seriously embarrassing things to hide, then maybe Facebook isn’t the thing for you. It’s just how it is. The very nature of Facebook revolves around snooping. Sometimes I actually do like to see what my friends talk about publicly with other people they’re friends with but I’m not. It reveals just one more facet of their complex individuality. I would have never known many an interesting thing if it wasn’t for my friends who would post links to things on teh interwebs that interest me. And I certainly wouldn’t be able to keep track of and feel connected to people that I don’t even hang out with in real life anymore, even though if you think about it, it’s not very private that I know an old grade school friend had an amazing peanut curry for lunch even though we haven’t talked in over ten years.
Privacy is dead. We should be holding its funeral. But did privacy really exist in the first place? When people can complain that President Obama ate an ice cream cone while looking at the oil spill in the South, privacy is dead. When sex tapes are released onto the Internet, instead of crying out about how it totally invaded someone’s private, intimate life, we laugh about how tawdry they are. We complain that public figures won’t disclose everything about them, when they say that their family is off-limits to public discussion. We gossip with our friends about other people, we tried to read our older siblings’ journals when we were kids, and we will continue to talk about other people and try to find out what people are doing (especially the juicy, salacious details) even if all of the Facebook servers come crashing to the ground.
People are mad because privacy invasion is now on a global scale, where anyone from India can potentially view that really funny video of you jumping on the trampoline and accidentally landing on your obese Aunt Bertha. They’re mad because now they cannot stop anyone from talking about them, or intimidating them into shutting up. The internet has bred an entirely new humanity – a humanity which is much more honest with itself and forced to stare its existential despair and stupidity in the face one Facebook status update and YouTube video at a time.
So stop whining about privacy, you wimps. Welcome to the new age of the internet, where your grandmother can find you spewing a bunch of nasty swear words about Mexicans and can (and will!) chastise you publicly about it. I, for one, embrace this new future. Maybe we’ll foster an entire new generation who understand Buddha’s saying that “words have the power to destroy or to heal,” and perhaps we as the pioneers of internet technology will become object lessons to our children, who will understand that the very nature of humanity is to cry out for privacy while attempting to penetrate the privacy of others, and that perhaps the only course of action is to exhibit a little bit more kindness, charity, and sympathy to those who make mistakes because sooner or later, we’ll make a mistake, too, and chances are, someone caught it on their cellphone camera and is already sharing it with his friends on Facebook.
* Not really.