The Commerce Journal

May 17, 2012

Dancing with the devil: Our cultural distrust of Facebook

By Caleb Slinkard
Journal Staff

COMMERCE — The internet social networking giant that is Facebook is planning to “go public” sometime this year, a fact that has some people worried. Facebook’s initial public offering (IPO) is not set in stone, but the company did say that they wanted to raise some $5 billion by selling a small portion of their shares. While the earning potential for the company, which made $667 million in profit last year according to their IPO filing, is obvious, expanding the company’s income could prove problematic as more and more users access Facebook from their mobile devices (which have far less advertisements). But a lot of the uncertainty clogging up business journals and tech websites revolves around our love-fear relationship with 27-year-old billionaire Mark Zuckerberg’s creation.

It’s easy to see that Facebook has changed the way we perceive social interaction, the way we use the internet, and even our relationships (the term ‘Facebook official’ is now used when two individuals update their relationship status to indicate that they are together).

But we are also terrified of how the company is using our private information and photos that we share so willingly. Facebook has received a lot of negative publicity in recent months because of the way they set up their privacy settings (you often have to physically go change the default settings to ensure that random users can’t peruse every detail of your life you choose to share).

Facebook claims 900 million users, but 59 percent of people surveyed by AP-CNBC say they “had little to no trust in Facebook to keep their information private.” That poll was published last Tuesday.

It’s an odd example of cognitive dissonance that sees Facebook users spend an average of six to seven hours a month on the website, posting status updates, tagging friends in photos, and informing their followers where they are and what they’re doing on a daily basis, despite distrusting the way the website uses this information.

It seems like an easy problem to solve. Are you worried about what Facebook will do with your information? Simply shutdown your profile and don’t visit the website. But deleting a Facebook account seems like removing one’s main access to social interaction. After all, when was the last time you sent someone an actual letter? We associate emails with business interactions, but who would want to read a 500 word email? People still talk on the phone, but not as much as they text.

Besides, users can share photo albums with 250 people at a time. They can receive instant validation on what they’re doing, what they like, or what thought just popped into their head. It’s a great way to waste time, catch up with friends all over the globe, or simply see what your “friends” are up to (affectionately known as Facebook stalking).

Regardless of how much users don’t trust Facebook, it’s plain to see that we as a culture have shifted to think in terms of status updates and ‘likes.’ We’ve gained access to a huge amount of private, social information that we can instantly interact with, and as a culture we’ve begun to assume such access is a right, not a privilege. As long as we think about it those terms, we will continue to load all of the private information we can into a website we intrinsically don’t trust.