Saturday, January 24, 2009

Social networking, the automatic gossip

I rejoined Facebook the other day. I'm not sure quite what spurred it on, in retrospect, though I can point to a few catalysts.

I originally left because of the Beacon debacle. I don't know why it'd never occurred to me before, but Beacon exposed a vector I'd not considered before: my e-mail address. Everyone who I'd registered with as matt@zigg.com (which isn't exactly private) could aggregate data on what I'd done with them. I started creating tagged e-mail addresses that would at least defeat simple aggregation, a practice I continue to this day (I expect it'll be sufficient since few others on the planet seems to care much, yet), and left shortly thereafter with concerns that the company was out to monetize my social graph by any means possible, and tie it back to anything they could outside of their enclave.

I've moderated somewhat since then. I decided I can be careful about what I say and what I tell the site about myself, and still use it at least as a meeting point to connect with friends. So, after Cory announced after months of resistance that he'd signed up for Twitter, and having seen many friends catch the Facebook bug, I thought, eh, why not. I could handle it.

My friend list is rebuilding with speed that'd be astonishing except that I'm pretty sharply aware of how a few simple queries can map possibilities in the social graph that only need confirmation by the next person to sign on and see them. I've picked up a few new friends that I haven't had before, and amusingly, some that I did have before are welcoming me to the fold as if I'm totally new. But what really has surprised me is how open people are when they think they're surrounded by just their close friends.

In the real world, you make decisions as to who to share information with. If you have friends, you might talk to them about personal problems. You certainly wouldn't stand up in the office or at a high school reunion and broadcast them to the world. If your friends turned around and talked about your problems to others, you'd label them gossips.

Now, social networking has become that gossip. When you hit that "post" button, everyone knows what's what, whether it's your best friend or a passing acquaintance. In some situations, you might think you're even talking to a specific friend, only to have your comments be seen by their friends.

Looking down my "news feed", a list of what's been going on among the people I've marked friends on Facebook, there's already some really personal stuff in there. Stuff I wouldn't necessarily share with everyone if it happened to me. I'm aware there are so-called "privacy nudists" in this world who would do this anyway, but I think there's a curtain of illusion there, intentional or not, that when you make a post on Facebook—or any other similarly-operating network—that you're talking to your friends.

You should know that you're talking to everyone else, too.

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posted by zigg 11:46 AM


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