In Defense of Facebook

In Defense of Facebook January 12, 2011

Definitely a departure from the normal fare you get around here, but this subject has been eating at me. It keeps coming up in blog circles and on Facebook itself; how Facebook is evil, would like to destroy our children, and must be boycotted. How Mark Zuckerberg is a shade shy of Hitler. How everyone who works for Facebook or supports it are nefarious, soulless and twelve kinds of capitalists. And these complaints appear most often on…Facebook itself.

Every time I see someone complain about Facebook on Facebook I want to punch them. That’s just silly. Without this site, you wouldn’t even be able to voice those words that you’re using to malign the site! It’s as ludicrous and as hypocritical as someone using the freedom America provides them to burn the American flag.

Before I launch into the common complaints about Facebook and the reasons I believe they’re largely invalid, let me first agree with the principle behind these complaints. Our world is becoming impersonal. We are slowly but surely losing our humanity to a mass of avatars and computer screens. Personal contact is dying out; the art of letter writing is all but dead; too often I look into coffee shops and find every seat occupied and silence reigning, as the occupants pore over their Iphones and Ipads. That scene in Wall-E where the tubby chair riders zip around with screens in their faces, oblivious to the fact that there is a swimming pool right in front of them, is coming true more rapidly than I could have believed. I am not one who would have rushed headlong into the digital age, and yet it is upon me. I find myself in possession of a new Droid, and I am the last person I know to have finally signed up for internet access on my phone. It is with regret that I think of the days of my grandmother, when women hung out the wash in the backyard and chatted on the porch while their toddlers played on the lawn. Those days are lost to all but a lucky few among us.

And yet, in the midst of this digital revolution, I believe blame shouldn’t be placed on the most visible party. Social media was not created by Mark Zuckerberg, however much he may have improved it. This day was a long time in coming. Social media is somewhat like a gun; it is as destructive and dangerous as the person who uses it. Most of us use Facebook for the intention with which it was created: to stay connected.

The lemming-like campaign to paint Facebook as the source of all evil in our modern world of social media is just ludicrous. Most of these complaints, at least in the blog circles I frequent and among the status updates I am privy to, run in one of two veins. The first is the complaint that Facebook (brace yourselves) sells our private information to a third-party company that puts together ads targeted to our interests. 

How dare they!

Let me back up. When I say private information, I don’t mean email addresses, phone numbers, or physical addresses. No, I mean such private things as…demographics: male or female, age range, interest in sports, interest in losing weight. Things that will assist this third-party company in putting together ads that actually might interest us. Things that we have already shared with the world by choosing to put on Facebook in the first place. For example, when I was pregnant, my Facebook sidebar was filled with ads about stretch mark cream and baby accessories. Since I had Liam, it has been filled with ads about how to lose weight and regain my sex life. It’s funny, and if the ads annoy me, guess what? I can get rid of them by clicking on the handy little “X” in the top right corner.

But these ads get some of my fellow mommy blogger’s underpants in a twist. Apparently, the idea that Facebook would ever do something so base and so selfish as find a way to continue to finance itself so that it can continue to provide us with this free service is…well…naughty. 

So naughty, in fact, that most of these bloggers would like nothing more than to put Mark Zuckerberg in a nice, long time-out. How dare he? How dare he not safeguard our most intimate secrets? How dare he not keep horrible things like ads out of our online hearths?

Never mind the fact that Mark Zuckerberg actually does safeguard our most intimate secrets. Never mind the fact that he keeps his company firmly in his youthful grip so that Facebook can continue to be a safe online forum, a place where we don’t have to fear that some random person will be able to access our private information. And do you know how he keeps Facebook safe? By treating us like grown-ups.

He’s set the company up so that our private information (and this time I really do mean private, as in email addresses, phone numbers, etc.) is only shared with our friends, and only if we want to share it! That’s right, kids. Our security is in our own hands. If we constantly accept friend requests from people who aren’t actually our friends in real life, then we endanger our own information. And if we don’t want anyone having access to, say, our phone number, all we have to do is change our own security settings.
So why people whimper and wail about Facebook’s security breaches is beyond me. As far as I can tell, if your security is compromised, it’s your own damned fault.
Now, as far as the ads go, I cannot for the life of me understand the outrage over this one. Facebook provides us with a service. In my case, I live halfway across the country from my parents, siblings, in-laws, and most of my friends. I have three children, two nephews, one niece, two little godchildren, and lots of friends that I miss. Facebook provides me with an absolutely invaluable service by allowing me to see those children grow and to keep up with my friends in real time. It also lets me upload pictures weekly and sometimes daily, so that my own parents and in-laws can see their beloved grandchildren. There is no limit to the number of pictures I can upload.
Facebook has over 300 million users, all of whom are constantly uploading pictures, updating statuses, writing notes, posting links, and so forth. Someone has to oversee all of this, to make sure it keeps running smoothly. In addition, Facebook is constantly researching ways to improve its service. And they never ask us for a penny. They make their money in the most unobtrusive way possible: by third-party advertisers. This keeps the site running, keeps the staff paid, and keeps us from having to pay a dime. They never beg for support like Wikipedia; they never offer upgraded service for a premium. Everyone gets the same deal, from the actual Facebook employees right down to me, a mommy blogger.
Additionally, Facebook is constantly trying to open up the flow of information. They try to connect with people in oppressed places like China, where information is filtered and often distorted. Their ultimate goal is incredibly admirable: they want to help people connect with each other while opening up channels of information to people who would otherwise not have them.They want to give isolated people the power to share.
And they never ask for money.
The second complaint usually runs along the lines of “Facebook has killed real relationships“. I just don’t buy this. Email, text messaging and Myspace were around long before Facebook, and few people showed up en masse to lead the crusade against the relationship-killing power of these forms of social media. Everyone knows that a Facebook message is not an equal and satisfactory substitute for a two-hour conversation. You can feel it. Even my little brother, who at nineteen has grown up in the text-messaging/instant-messaging world, still has real friends, goes to real parties, and has real conversations. Facebook is more like the old college bulletin boards for him; it keeps him updated on what’s going on and where his friends will be.
I find that people often fail to point out exactly how valuable Facebook can be at keeping friendships alive, and even helping people create new friendships. When we moved to Las Vegas, it took me over two years to find more than one single real-live friend here. Facebook was my only other source of friendship, the only way I had, aside from phone calls, of having any sort of relationship with my old friends. It kept me sane, and often helped remind me that I wasn’t living an isolated life with many children, a busy husband, and no social life of my own. It helped me remember that I did have friends, even if they weren’t stopping by for coffee or coming for dinner.
When I started blogging I began to make new friends through my blog. Soon they became my Facebook friends as well, and I got to see a new side of them through daily updates and pictures of their kids. I’ve also been able to re-connect with people in college who should have been my friends then, but through pride or differing interests I never took the time to get to know. I’m so grateful to Facebook for giving me a second chance, because many of these people are truly lovely and getting to know them, even via status update, has been a great experience.
Look, I’m not saying it’s ideal. I miss real friendships and real conversations over coffee or wine as much as the next person, but life isn’t giving me that right now. I’ve got three kids and most of my friends live across the country, and Vegas hasn’t been a great place to meet like-minded (or even vaguely similarly-minded) mothers. Facebook has kept me from being completely isolated and I owe it a debt of gratitude. And, in fact, I have been able to have meaningful conversations via Facebook messaging. I don’t think that typing and sending something rather than speaking it removes all meaning. On the contrary, it often gives us an opportunity to be more thoughtful and more careful of others. Seeing our words in print gives us time to re-think and consider their implications. Conversations…and relationships…can be much improved this way.
As far as the occasional criticism of Zuckerberg himself, let me offer a few things. First, I have not seen The Social Network, so I can’t address whatever criticisms of his character arise in that movie. Second, I believe most criticisms of Zuckerberg are motivated by jealousy. The man is twenty-six years old, the same age I am. When we were both nineteen, I was perfecting the caramel macchiato, hating drive-through customers, and learning how to read and understand literature. Mark Zuckerberg was turning down a billion dollar offer to buy Facebook…because Facebook was something he believed in and he wanted to stand behind it.
Since then, of course, I’ve left Zuckerberg eating my dust as far as our accomplishments go. I’ve helped create and usher into this world three human souls. Zuckerberg’s merely built an online empire and changed everything about the way we communicate. I’m not afflicted by the jealousy bug, but I do have enormous respect for him. He’s built something that he believes in and he stands behind it. He takes very good care of his employees. He’s at the office most of the time. His desk is not in a corner office, it’s just one of the many desks in the open floor plan, fairly indistinguishable from all the others around it. Conference rooms are glass-walled to further transparency within the company. He’s a multi-billionaire and he drives an Acura for goodness’ sake! How can you not respect him? He seems to me, from a distance at least, to be a truly good person. Most good people are ruined by money; Zuckerberg seems to be fairly unaffected by it. That’s the only thing I’m jealous of, really; his ability to stand above the consumerism that our society is mired in.
There are other criticisms of Facebook that I’m not going to go to great lengths to discuss here, like the fact that they won’t allow users to post breast-feeding photos. I’m not too fussed about that one; I’m a breastfeeding mama, but I don’t have any interest in showing the world how proficient I am at it. I also think that it’s a good thing that Facebook won’t allow pictures of breasts to be shown freely, and that it might be too great a task to expect them to sift through all the pictures of breasts to select only those with a baby attached to be uploaded. Lots of criticisms, in fact, could probably be answered if we only understood the inner workings of the company and the demands that such great user numbers place on the staff, who, remember, we are not paying.
In the end, and simply put, I believe Facebook provides us with a valuable service. For me, it’s been invaluable, a service that I happily would have paid for but that I love all the more because it’s free. The company and the man behind Facebook seem to be good people with good intentions, and the witch-hunt to find reasons to hate Zuckerberg and Facebook is just preposterous. How about we all enjoy the service that Facebook provides, at no cost to us?
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