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Face-Off 

Facebook can be an all-consuming habit. And getting your face away from it isn’t easy.

"Please let us know why you are deactivating (required)."

After one late night of procrastinating too many, I let go. I had been thinking about it for a while but one morning as I flipped back and forth between Facebook and a project with an impending deadline I pushed myself to quit.

Facebook is resulting in a social drama for me. Checking that box seemed appropriate. I was given 10 choices. Most of them opened up another box when I clicked on them, popping up with a reason not to quit and spouting off ways to improve my privacy settings. This was one last attempt to keep me hooked.

One last wall post, one deep breath and in a cold-turkey click...my account was gone.

After that it was hard to open an internet browser without typing the magic word.Checking my email inbox—which had decreased by half—just didn't cut it. Facebook had made a voyeur out of me. I wasted too many hours reading random wall-to-walls and looking at pictures of people I barely knew: the late nights when I sat bleary-eyed in front of my computer, my eyes jumping to the clock in the right corner of my screen. I compromised my sleep looking for another fix. Other than the odd message from an old friend, Facebook granted me nothing but glorified gossip, stalking and a bad kink in my neck. All I got was empty internet "friendships" and zero fulfillment.

And then I came to realize...if people out there were Facebooking at the same level that I was (or, god forbid, worse), I was probably a victim, too.

Facebook has created a strange paradox between anonymity and exhibition. You are able to keep track of others and even draw conclusions about them from the information posted without anyone knowing. In checking up on people via the network, you are completely faceless.

At the same time Facebook leaves you—for the most part—exposed. Privacy settings can prevent this, of course, but when you initially sign up to be part of Facebook, your privacy is practically nil. Many are unaware of the settings and how much of themselves they are leaving on show. With concerns over university security and identity theft, John Bullock, information security manager at Dalhousie Information Services, wrote in the department's Digital Times newsletter, "the dishonesty of some users or changes in Facebook's operations could result in a breach of personal privacy. We encourage users to publish only what they are willing to show the entire world: The web is not a private place."

There's another faceless person with their eyes on your account, too. The site's terms and conditions state that when you post information you are granting the company ownership over your material. This licence allows them "to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute" your material for whatever reason they see fit. That could be to advertisers, marketers or pollsters.

Recently, the company came under fire after users' online shopping activities were tracked and reported to their "friends." Creepy much? So, basically, there's no hiding from the big guys behind Facebook. I had to question if Facebookers are simply unaware of this or, not unlike addicted smokers, are they simply ignoring the warning label? The people I've talked to didn't bother to even glance at the privacy terms when they signed up.

By joining Facebook we leave ourselves open to be looked at by other members, whether it's for admiration or scrutiny. In a recent article in the Globe and Mail, Michael Kesterton shares academic findings that state: "Facebook users that had public postings from attractive friends were considered to be significantly better-looking than people who had postings from unattractive friends." And all this time you've been worried about your profile picture. The network has potentially drawn in your parents, co-workers, employers, doctors and political leaders—along with your enemies from junior high. So, you'd better put your best face forward, because their impression of you is gathered from your profile. I know handfuls of people who have had stalkers, have been threatened and even who have had fake accounts made up for themselves. You get what you sign up for—and at Facebook's current popularity, privacy is a lot to ask for.

The online utility has become a poor excuse for a social network among some users. Means of communication have diminished to posting on walls and sending free gifts. Half of the "friends" you have don't talk to you...they've only been added, or added you, to have a closer look. And since when does being "social" involve sitting alone in front of a computer screen? Some people rush to their computers first thing in the morning and I've seen groups of friends with their laptops open, having Facebook sit-ins. Many say they check their accounts religiously because they're afraid of missing something.

These days I get my updates from friends filling me in. I've used the opportunity to cure a craving, like bumming a smoke at a bar. When I'm called to a computer so my roommates can point out something on the site, I direct them to the page I want to see.

I haven't reactivated my account since October. I won't lie...I feel left out sometimes. I wonder if I can get a patch for that.

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