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Technology News - Annalee Newitz

Technology News

Three Reasons to Hate Facebook

By Annalee Newitz

I KNOW it's uncharitable of me to say that I hate, because after all I have a Facebook profile, and I log into the infernal site several times a week. But I do hate it and I'm not afraid to say why.

(1) I don't want you to know who my friends are. Facebook is a second-generation social network, which means that its developers have learned from the mistakes of early social networks like Friendster and MySpace. Like its predecessors, Facebook will give you a free profile page where you can list as much information about yourself as you are willing to give up—including what you've just bought online. As you make "friends," you link to their profiles and they link to yours.

Like its predecessors, Facebook is all about showing people who your friends are. But frankly, there are plenty of people I might want to connect with online who don't need to know about each other. It's not like I've got anything to hide, but even if I did, so what? Sometimes, there are perfectly good reasons not to introduce all my friends to one another.

I realize that there are privacy restrictions on Facebook that allow me to hide my friends lists or make them only semivisible to people in networks, blah blah blah. But those are a pain in the ass to set up, and so like most people on Facebook, I default to letting my friends see each other. I don't have to go around parties in real life advertising who else at the party I know or have slept with. Why should I have to do it if I want to socialize online?

(2) Too many annoying, inexplicable, and useless software applications are circulating on Facebook. Every time I log into Facebook, I see in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen all the "requests" and "pokes," and whatever-the-fucks I have from my social network. Many of these requests are generated by small software applications that people have written to run on top of Facebook. See, Facebook opened up parts of its system called "application programming interfaces," or APIs, which allow anyone to write some dumb program that will send you crap.

Last week, a number of those programs had allowed people in my social network to go through their friend lists and send automatically generated requests to join groups, take quizzes or whatever. Here is the insane list I had in my "requests" bar: "1 gay request, 1 american citizen test request, 1 good karma request, 1 smartest friend invitation." And there have been so many others, like "hottest friends invitation" or "zombie invitation" or "vampire bite request" or "compare movie scores invitation." Yes, it sounds fun and whimsical at first, as if social relations have been turned into a fanciful playground. But then you get a spam feeling.

Usually, responding to requests requires you to sign up for something and give some information about yourself and download another piece of software. And why the hell do I want to answer a gay request from a zombie? I mean, that sounds good until you have to download unknown software from an unknown gay zombie. The fun turns out just to be noise. And there's nothing worse than noise in your personal profile space.

(3) Facebook enforces social conformity. Some people are only figuratively forced to join Facebook, because if they don't it will be hard for them to network with friends and business associates. But I was actually forced by my employers to join, because we use Facebook as our employee contact list.

OK, nobody pointed a gun at my head, but it was either join or be unable to access the contact information of anybody at my company. I'm not saying my company is evil, or even wrong—Facebook is a reasonable way of setting up an employee contact list for a company full of telecommuters.

It's just that being forced made me feel more than ever that Facebook is a tool of social conformity. The more public our friend lists are, the more we'll feel like we have to pick friends based on public opinion.

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who may or may not respond to your request to be a gay vampire movie-buff karma bum on Facebook.

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