Sunday, April 25, 2010

Your Freudian Slip is Showing: What Facebook Hatred Reveals about the Twitterati. (Alienating My Friends, Part 2)

Yesterday, I posted what I'm hoping was a fairly successful effort to alienate many close personal friends by defending Facebook's sharing of personal information with third party sites. Now it's time to go for the double by telling people I like quite a bit that they're wrong, wrong, wrong, and bad human beings to boot.

The exchange about Facebook and privacy that triggered yesterday's post also came to include some comments from one Matt Thomas (@mattthomas) comparing Facebook and Twitter. The meat of it was that while Facebook was open to critique because it was infiltrated with advertising, Twitter was a different animal, less open to critique because it's relatively ad-free. I can agree that Twitter is, in general, a much more pleasant user experience because it's an ad-free environment, though I'm guessing that's because it's still mostly running on VC, and everything's going to change when the service starts facing increasing demand to turn a profit.

But Matt also shared with me a series of Tweets from other users reflecting a much stronger position than just a preference for not seeing ads. For instance: “Wait, there are people who think Facebook exists for any reason other than to spray them with advertising? Funny.” - @textism. Even more bothersome was “Twitter is a simple service used by smart people. Facebook is a smart service used by simple people,” posted by Jonah Peretti (@peretti) back in March. These Twitterati seem to think that Twitter is somehow inherently superior to Facebook, and that the former's savvy, hip users should feel totally justified in looking down their noses at the deluded masses committed to the latter. Superficially, this sentiment from the guy who started Buzzfeed is just mind-bending – that site is the drain at the bottom of the worst dregs of the internet, little more than TMZ for nerds. But more profoundly, Facebook and Twitter are so radically different that these comparisons are based on things other than the services' relative strengths and weaknesses. Facebook hatred is more revealing of the haters than the hated.

As I mentioned yesterday, I really enjoy Facebook. But I've turned to spending more and more energy on Twitter as I've become much more focused on professionalization over the past few years. This tracks to larger differences in demographics between the two services. Twitter is oriented towards professionalization, information sharing, and not a little self-promotion, and appropriately, it attracts a lot of grown-ups interested in immersing themselves in professional or expert communities. Teenagers, predictably, aren't all that interested in Twitter.

So what, really, is at play when heavy Twitter users dog Facebook? What I see, ultimately, is a mix of ego and jealousy based on social and demographic differences. Twitter has developed, whether or not this was the original intent, into a platform for digital go-getters and information workaholics. Facebook, on the other hand, is populated by the aimless but amiable, young people looking for a good time and mindless distraction. It's not a great locus of action or discussion of matters of social importance, like net neutrality and privacy. But does this mean Facebook's users are the mindless dupes of advertisers, or maybe just plain dupes?

First of all, it's a mistake to think that everyone is either one or the other, either in terms of what they use or who they are. I use them both, for different things. Different aspects of peoples' personalities come into play on each service, but it's ridiculous to use that as a basis for passing judgment on any given person, or everyone on a particular service. We are all, at various moments, consumers and rebels, idiots and savants. This is a basic principle of human communication, if not of human life – we alter our behavior on the basis of context, presenting different selves to different groups and using different parts of our brains depending on our mood and moment. If you're nothing but a 24/7 Twitter machine sending out information to a relatively anonymous audience, aren't you missing out on the at least slightly deeper social connections represented by Facebook? (Yes, I know that's a whole different debate, but speaking only for myself, I do use Facebook to interact with people who are 'real' friends).

Moreover, the ageism at play is more than a little ironic. A lot of people on Twitter traffic in various forms of futurism, positioning themselves, for fun and profit, as visionaries aware of what's 'coming next' for the internet and for society as a whole. But in a couple of these moments, they come across as extremely crochety oldsters complaining about the inanity and shiftlessness of those dang kids on Facebook. I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday about how cops in places like Iowa City are fundamentally resentful of the young kids they have to police, just because they're having so much fun. I can see a bit of this in Twitter folk – a certain resentment by these digital soldiers towards the dissolute character of the citizens they're working so hard to save from themselves.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Take My Life, Please: Why the Privacy Mavens Have Got Facebook All Wrong

I just got in a mild dust-up with a couple of friends over a mix of privacy and functionality issues having to do with Facebook. I thought I'd respond in a forum where I had enough space to make an actual argument.

It all started when a journalist friend posted a link to this page about turning off Facebook's new Instant Personalization service, which links your profile information to external web pages, such as Pandora. I expressed a 140 character version of the sentiment that, while I really love the way librarians have stepped up as our society's guardians of free thought and other kinds of information independence, I find a lot of the sky-is-falling sentiment surrounding information sharing on social networks to be pretty overwrought.