Elkin: If you care too much, don’t share too much

Ali Elkin

Have you quit Facebook yet? Me neither.

Recent user outrage in response to Facebook’s redesign, the announcement of its impending Timeline feature and its integration with other sites has by now quieted down to a modest curmudgeonly growl. Part of me is a little sorry to bring it up again. But in the unlikely case that this column inspires another wave of bitching that will clog up my News Feed, new Facebook has made it easy for me to unsubscribe from social media’s breed of neo-Luddites.

Facebook’s Timeline feature will present an archive of the user’s digital memories. Old party pictures, old statuses, old flames. Critics worry information that was once considered appropriate for public viewing will inopportunely show up in this feature. The thing is, though, Facebook has always been really great at letting me present myself the way I want to be seen.

I made my Facebook account when I was 15. Fifteen-year-olds can often be embarrassing, and I am more than confident that I was no exception. But I am willing to bet a large nugget of Facebook’s eventual initial public offering that Timeline will allow me to present to the world a version of my teenage self that is nothing less than adorable.

As with most products, there’s the thing Facebook says it does and the thing it actually does. Facebook tells us its purpose is helping us keep in touch. Though that’s true, a huge part of what we do on Facebook is social self-promotion. When something interesting happens to us or when we just need to remind the world that we exist, we update our statuses. When we have tans at the end of the summer, we change our profile pictures. Because it’s not in Facebook’s interest to crappify user experience, I cannot imagine that there will ever be a time when I can’t completely orchestrate my portrayal on Facebook. For example, I will never choose to link my Facebook account to a site like Spotify where I stream music because I know doing so will instantly negate whatever modicum of street cred I cling to. I have a hard time believing Facebook will ever force me to announce just how often I listen to Carrie Underwood’s “Cowboy Casanova.” (Oops!)

The exchange, of course, is that Facebook gets to keep whatever information I give them at any given time forever, no matter whether I still want to share it or not. In return for the service of being my agent to the rest of the world, I think that’s kind of fair. Facebook is a company that offers a service that I am perfectly happy not to pay for, so I’m pretty zen about advertisers getting their hands on the fact that I am a 21-year-old female Northwestern student and whatever else they can glean from my wall. The worst they can do is try to sell me something that I might actually want to buy. I’m not really one to freak out about privacy. The stuff I want to keep private I tend not to put on the Internet.

Those who believe that the information they broadcast on their Facebook profiles is being shared with advertisers are totally right. Being satisfied with my status as a mindless cog in a sick and disturbing system, I can’t really help you there. But if you’re worried that Facebook or some future iteration of the site will suddenly spew some vintage status about how much you loved your crazy ex-girlfriend, I’d say fear not. Facebook is good at keeping its users around and sharing their information with advertisers because it doesn’t pull stuff like that.

Ali Elkin is a Medill senior.

She can be reached at [email protected].