A post in the blog of a friend managed to bring Facebook to my attention. In his article, Tosin explains how he became disillusioned by Facebook, it’s in my opinion a story worth reading whether you are a Facebook user or not. I will not add anything to his story as I think he made hmself very clear, but I now feel prompted by him to write some of my thoughts about Facebook.
If you read Tosin’s article before getting to this point, you’ll see he discusses the term ‘friend’ within the social media realm. Although I am aware that social media is not synonymous of Facebook, the two terms go hand in hand these days and for the purpose of this post I decided to treat them as one. You will also have noticed I opened this article defining Tosin a friend. So you may be wondering who Tosin is to me, considering that we live about five thousand miles apart from each other, in different countries, and we never met in real life. When I posted my comment on his blog, this is the very question I reflected on: who is Tosin to me?
My answer to the question is that Tosin is a person who communicates with me visually more than in any other form and I find his visual communication very inspiring. He owes nothing to me, he just does what he is good at: he is a photographer and his specialism is urban landscapes and/or architecture. What in my opinion makes him stand out from other photographers is his ability of breathing life into otherwise cold concrete and steel blocks covered by slick glass surfaces. He truly lives his travel, his images seem to be made to communicate his feelings about places rather than just the way they look from the points of view he chooses. He is also someone who, when I asked him, has been keen to give me genuine advice and opinions. I now feel compelled to say he is not paying me to write this, I am not affiliated to his professional activities, and all the rest that usually goes in disclaimer notes. Anyway, you may now wonder whether I am one of his Facebook’s friends and the answer to that is I’m not. The reason I am neither following his business Facebook page nor his personal one, is that I am not a Facebook user myself.
Aside, and moving on, from Tosin and what he wrote about Facebook in his article, Facebook has been a brilliant idea for his founder and owner, as well as for a good chunk of the shareholders of this newly floated company. In the process of earning them a fair amount of money and massive influence both on the consumer arena as well as at major governments and institutional level, it triggered a completely new trend in humanity – remember, Facebook operates on a global scale – by persuading people all over the world not only to give up their privacy but to obsessively make almost everything related to their social and private life available to others (with ‘others’ having a VERY broad definition). The result of this trend is that today there are many people who are no longer in control of the information they made available about themselves on social media. Those who believe that deleting their own material with reverse the situation are to be disappointed: we all know that ‘deleting’ merely means moving information from a visible database to an ‘invisible’ one, over which we have no control at all. Nobody can tell for sure, but I doubt all these media and social networking companies really permanently delete any information about their users. Then the question is who can buy (or just get) this information and why? Whatever you are told, the truth is that they can keep all your data and do, overtly or covertly, pretty much what they like with it.
The extent of social networks intrusion has been, and still is, almost unbelievable. They even have the brass face of asking people to give their username and password of their personal email (which sometimes coincides with those of their work email) so that they can gain access to everything is held in their multi-gigabytes mailboxes (because we don’t run our own email servers but use servers and space provided by – that’s right – the media giants). Sure they will tell you they just scavenge your email address databases for addresses of people you may know on their networks, but who does really believe this? Once they have access they can download all phone numbers, physical addresses, communication, images, and anything that can be found about you and all the people you know – in fact, this will extend even to the people you don’t know but just correspond with. Good luck to us, may a sudden spark of wisdom save us from feeding even further info to ‘the web’.
One interesting recent story is that of a guy who was interested in a property that I own. I’ll call him Jack, for convenience. Jack is an IT director in a company that produces, sells and markets, applications for corporate social media. When he contacted me the first time he was looking for a place to rent. He found me and, to cut a long story short, he decided to commit and go ahead with the contract. To my surprise, when he was about to put down the deposit, he made a remark that made me wonder where the world is moving. He said that when he ran a search about me, he wasn’t sure I existed because I was not in Facebook and even Linked-In had no records of me. He basically thought I was ‘not real’ (read I could have been a fraudster) as the only publicly available records about me were on directorships I held in three companies. Oh my! He trusted more platforms where anyone can create fake identities at will and be surrounded by hundreds of ‘friends’ that have no clue of who this person is apart from what’s written in his/her social media pages, rather than the official, reputable and recognised, company registrar in one of the major and most reliable legal jurisdictions in the world. Staggering, but true.
Another interesting episode is that of my wife, who has an empty account as I have, on Linked-In, receiving from this social network a suggestion that she might know my ex partner. There is nothing hidden in here, she knows pretty much everything about my present and past life, but if I consider that I always made a point not to mix the past with the present and the future, that I am quite careful about not sharing addresses and providing too much information to social networks, it is clear that there is a constant and relentless trawling in the ocean of the internet for personal data that in many cases could be defined as privacy violation.
It just comes to my mind that in truth I do have a Facebook account, though not under my name. I am not trying to be hypocritical here. I seldom use this account, mostly out of curiosity, to study this new trend of making so many things public. I found that I can retrieve information about what a lot of the people I know do, where they are, who they go out with, the names, ages, and pictures of their friends, relatives including children, dates of birth (very useful for identity theft and fraud), what car they own, what the inside of their house looks like, and more. The list is long.
So that’s why I am not a client of Facebook. I am a client of WordPress, Yahoo and Google, but I tend to share on their social platform only a minimum amount of information and rarely, if ever, personal. My prediction – and hope – is that some day this trend will reverse and people will start preserving their privacy. Today giving away personal information is so fashionable that even restaurants, department stores and shops, ask you to fill in a form with your whereabouts and contact details, often with the excuse of validating a warranty (that you are legally entitled to when you buy something new, regardless of your address and contact details) or a prize draw. My advice is, suffice to say, tell them to get lost.
As per the ‘friends’ and people who keep clicking posts around the web, I think there needs to be a bit of refocusing about who these people and entities really are and if it is really worth interacting them via the social networks. My answer to this is that unless one has a business or professional interest, it probably isn’t worth the time. In my experience, friends and people who care about us always find a way of being in touch. By phone, by email, and even by writing a letter on a piece of paper, really showing that old fashion media can still convey feelings and affection better than the sometimes cold bits running over the internet at the speed of light.