With social media and the way life is being communicated via your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other, far more expansive networks, the lines that are drawn in the online sand are easily washed away, but hard to draw again.
There have been a ton of jokes about The Washington Post’s obsession with Facebook (Gizmodo is the original source of many of the laughs), but beyond the site’s configuration, there have been two great pieces published on the page in the last two weeks about what Facebook is and what it represents.
Marc Fisher’s piece about the burglar who had broken into his home and flaunted his successful thievery on Fisher’s son’s facebook page inside the residence included a graf both fascinating, difficult and, (sorry Marc) wrong:
My son was coping brilliantly with the trauma of losing his belongings – until he saw the invasion of his Facebook page. That’s when the pathetic indignity of the burglary hit. Here was a space that my son had carefully walled off from public view, limiting access to his page to his friends and schoolmates. And now a lowlife stranger was taunting him in that presumably private zone.
A private zone?
In naming him Time’s 2010 Man of the Year, the magazine lauded him for “connecting more than half a billion people.” Yet, Fisher argues on behalf of his son that Facebook is a carefully sculpted private network of people. Rita J. King, perhaps one of my favorite bloggers, scholars, Tweeters and general visionaries, offered a similar sentiment upon hearing of the Zuckerberg announcement, calling Facebook a segregated service.
With Facebook, everyone is right and no one is right. If you want a truly carefully walled off social network with people you trust to keep your content and status updates in the circle of trust (and you have an iPhone), you should be using Path, not Facebook. If you want to exist in a fully-public life, then you have a lot of work to do to get yourself going “viral,” infiltrating thousands, if not millions of the tangentially connected communities that define the internet today. Those walls that we construct both consciously and subconsciously, are at best translucent. Media have determined that, friends or not, your Facebook statuses are fair game and newsworthy, and, regardless of context, audience and timing, you can be held accountable.
Facebook as a tool for a brand is still incredibly valuable, but for individuals seeking to communicate, document and share the daily goings on of life, its relevance is long gone. Knowing an audience is essential in developing communication. Who is reading my post? What will it mean to them? Will this person give me the benefit of the doubt if it doesn’t communicate who I am in the best light?
Because these segregated networks are segregated only in theory, every word, video or photo posted to a page must be considered fair game for everyone. As our digital society becomes more Facebook savvy, it’ll be a hell of a lot more boring when we’re all on our best behavior.
In a second, much more emotionally devastating article, readers are given the story of Shana Greatman Swers, whose ordeal from September 23 until her tragic death six weeks later is chronicled in her Facebook page. (It’s unclear whether or not they gave prior approval, but it is especially interesting that those comments made public in the page include direct links tot their respective profiles.)
I spent some time discussing the article with my good friend (and a critical follow if you’re a beer-loving Twitter user) Bill today. It is by now understood that our digital imprint will last far longer than our actual lives. We may not fully understand what that can mean. In the case of my friend Steve, whose epic social media impact is strong as ever despite recently passing away, it is his tweets that friends, family and the casually interested/bored are using to reconstruct his life and understand who he was.
Much of the success of Facebook, Twitter and its predecessors, competitors and successors, lies in its simplicity. It is easy to rattle off a few hundred characters to share with an inexplicably interested group of friends, friends of friends and random lurkers. In the short term, it is a welcome distraction. In the long term, it is that same thoughtless stream of consciousness that people will one day use to remember and understand my life.