Negotiable privacy, or why I’m coming back to Facebook

Back in May 2009, I publicly quit Facebook in one of the most read and linked articles that I have written in this blog (apparently it still comes up quite high when people search for that topic). There is no need to go into a lot of detail into the reasons why I took the decision, as the article is self-explanatory. Since I quit I really had not felt the need to come back, Twitter and this blog filled all of my social network needs, and I still think that Twitter is a more immediate and useful tool by far. But my personal situation has changed so much that I can no longer maintain my dog-headed refusal to re-join Facebook, and I have decided to take the plunge again and resurrect my old account.

I still believe that many of the reasons why I quit in the first place are there. However, since the release of the Social Network last year I have been pondering about coming back. Facebook has become such an integral part of modern society that those of us outside of it cannot help but to be a little bit left out of the wider conversation that is taking place there. I still believe that FB is changing society, and not always for the best, but it is better to be inside looking at those changes taking place, than outside.

Since coming back to Costa Rica, I have also noticed that FB has become an integral tool of social interaction. Twitter usage is not as advanced in my new home, and my usage of that tool tends to be in English. So I found that I was not getting the same enjoyment of Twitter that I was getting in the UK, and I certainly felt that there was an important social element missing in my new life. It is curious to think that TechnoLlama is very much an English-speaking persona, but I digress.

So I felt that I really needed to come back despite my misgivings. I will not go back to my somewhat misplaced rules of engagement from my previous FB incarnation, so I should be a little bit more relaxed and social now that I am not in academia.

But perhaps more importantly, I feel that FB has become an integral part of how we negotiate modern privacy interactions. I have mentioned several times in this blog that I strongly believe in a form of information self-determination when it comes to the Internet. In other words, I am convinced that the more information you put out yourself, the more control you will have over your own information. People seldom click on the second page of Google results, so if you have placed most of the data on the first page yourself through social media, then it is more likely that people will see what you want them to see. I am currently reading an excellent book by Hannu Rajaniemi called The Quantum Thief (I may have bought this book during class, but I digress again). One of the really interesting aspects of the novel is that people have some form of nano-privacy cloud, a  sub-atomic information filter that allows you to present only what you want to the rest of the world to see. This data cloud allows you to negotiate privacy settings with those around you up to the level that it will allow you to mutually forget shared experiences. This takes information self-determination to the extreme, but I envision the future of privacy as something like that, and Facebook may be the first step towards that utopia (or dystopia, depending on your point of view).

So I’m open to FB friend invitations, I have to make up for almost two lost years of FB interaction. Now, where do I cut the first slice of this humble pie?

ETA: The reaction to my return to FB has been quite interesting. I have had lots of requests, but most interestingly, many old friends from Costa Rica have expressed delight and surprise at my departure and return. Despite my very public Internet presence, apparently I did not exist when I was not on Facebook. This could be a language thing, as my online presence for the last few years has been almost entirely in English, but I also think that if you are not on FB, many people do not even bother to Google you.

4 comments to Negotiable privacy, or why I’m coming back to Facebook

  • Last year I was very close to canceling my FB account but I decided to explore the privacy settings. I took most of my information down and limited the access to my photos so that only 30 out of 400 'friends' could see all the albums. I also disabled posts from others in my wall and pushed the 'Hide' and 'Ignore all invitations' buttons like there was no tomorrow. Now I can almost say I enjoy using it.

    The only thing I'm really missing is the capability to disable direct messages. Or at least being able to re-direct them to my email (not entirely sure I want that but I would definitely give it a try).

  • Welcome back! … its kind of like smoking… Nobody really leaves FB

  • Laurence

    I'm not sure what you mean by the 'wider conversation' on Facebook – to me, it's precisely the lack of any wider conversation on Facebook that turns me off it. Smug holiday photos and boring status updates from people I haven't spoken to in years is totally the opposite of what I see as Twitter's great selling point – getting useful/interesting updates directly from organizations and people who actually interest me, whether I know them or not. It think Twitter permits of much wider conversation than Facebook, not least because you can discuss things directly with people right at the top of their fields – I find that much more stimulating than the largely narcissistic/self conscious drivel typed into Facebook..

    • I think that it is indeed a wider conversation than that on Twitter. I agree that FB consists mostly of anodyne links, annoying games, endless holiday pictures and hundreds of photographs of people with their children. However, that is still a conversation. For depth and immediacy I rely on blogs and Twitter (isn't it funny how depth can be conveyed in 140 characters?). If I want to stay connected to my friends in Costa Rica and know when the next party is, I will have to rely on FB, because that is where they are.

      It is funny that many of them have discovered that I exist now that I am back on FB, I did not exist before :)

Leave a Reply