Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Playing Facebook

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I don't do Facebook but I have registered an account so that I can occasionally visit the site for research purposes.

My modus operandi has been to activate my account, have a swift look at whatever page has attracted my attention and then 'deactivate' my account before you can say: "I hope old acquaintances don't try to contact me; there's probably a very good reason we've lost touch".

I have the process down to a fine art. I execute the move in mere minutes, attending to my business so rapidly that the "You have deactivated your Facebook account" email usually arrives in my inbox at the same time as the "Welcome back to Facebook" email.

It's a great system for someone like me with no particular interest in the medium itself but an inclination to harvest information from it if the need arises. However, not long ago this approach stopped working as seamlessly as it had.

Initially it was relatively easy to switch off my account at will. I just had to select my reason for deactivation, enter my password and type in a CAPTCHA.

Facebook seemed okay with this behaviour which I thought was nice since people like me clearly weren't the target market Mark Zuckerberg had in mind when he dreamed up this online behemoth.

In using it to glean information while refusing to accumulate friends and personalise my page, I was really subverting the point of the site.

However - and whether this was a new Facebook policy or an automated response to my persistent promiscuous behaviour with the site - the last time I tried to access my account I was locked out of Facebook for twenty-four hours.

It was an "Ah-ha!" moment. At last I was being punished for my antisocial behaviour.

I gained a vague sense of satisfaction that they were finally weeding me out as an imposter, an unwelcome visitor to the 750-million strong online community. It fitted with the general sense of unease I had about Facebook and its meteoric rise.

I saw the movie The Social Network and was none the wiser about the hidden costs of Zuckerberg's creation. However Eli Pariser's book The Filter Bubble: What the internet is hiding from you crystallised and gave expression to my latent reservations about Facebook. The fact that this service was free to participate in had always sat uneasily with me. Surely if it was of value it would be appropriate for members to pay a fee to belong.

There's no such thing as a free lunch and evidently, despite illusions to the contrary, there really is no such a thing as a free virtual social network either.

A quote Pariser took from Andrew Lewis (who goes under the online alias Blue_beetle) says it all: "If you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold."

According to Pariser the race is on among giants such as Facebook and Google to accumulate as much personal data about each of us as possible. Every click we make, every online path we take, they'll be watching us.

This in turn gives them great leverage with advertisers who'll pay big money to target products and messages to an increasingly well-defined, and therefore more valuable, demographic.

And that's the most benign view of how the information will be used.

Intent on global domination, Mike Myers' Dr Evil character would no doubt come up with countless other ways of exploiting such massive, international databases. He'd gleefully imagine a world where millions of us are freely entering details about our personal preferences, political affiliations, favourite charities, favourite movements, favourite music, favourite foods, families, holidays, pets and what we had for tea last night into a single database.

Oh, hang on. Many of us are already doing that for real - on Facebook. Truth really is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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