Fear and Loathing on Facebook

“We fear change.”
Garth, Wayne’s World, 1992.

You can’t announce a font change on Facebook without the townspeople gathering their torches and pitchforks. Everyone loves Facebook, and wants it to remain exactly as it is today. And that’s been the story for years now. Of course, if Facebook listened to those users, it would be a little website for Harvard students and nobody else would use it. Clearly Facebook needs to know when to ignore their users and press bravely on. They’re doing a good job so far, and they’re about to take another step forward.

If you’re into Facebook at all, you’ve probably seen the announcements of some upcoming changes in the visibility of published information from users. Very soon now, Facebook users will have the option of publishing their shared information to the entire world, not just their friends. This is an evolutionary step … photos and notes, for example, have long had the ability to be shared beyond your immediate friends. I have photo albums set up to allow “friends of friends” to view them. I’ve posted notes which I opened up to “my networks” so my co-workers and geographical neighbors could see them. Obviously you can select bits of your profile to be public as well – to clarify who you are when people are searching for you. And now status updates and shared items will join that list.

You’d think Facebook was tearing down the statue of liberty. In my news feed, I saw a comment from one angry user that this was the “final nail in the coffin,” and that he would delete his account if the change went through. He was worried about a career-limiting-move being documented on Facebook and seen by co-workers. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d be much more concerned about someone else posting a picture of me that I didn’t approve of, as opposed to my own status update being read by the wrong person. Of course, if you’re a regular reader, you know my stance on co-workers and Facebook.

As always, I suggest looking for the opportunity here, not the danger. Facebook hasn’t taken anything from you, instead they are giving you some new tools. Taking advantage of new tools takes time and effort, but there is possible payoff. By showing one facet of your Facebook personality to the world at large, you will be giving people another avenue to learn about you. Instead of making them dig, give them something easily accessible. There you are, commenting on industry trends, hiking the Appalachian Trail, and sharing anecdotes from your latest tech conference.  What a great guy; we should hire him!

Nobody is forcing you to open up your entire life to the rest of the world. You can still talk smack to your friends about their fantasy football scores without your potential employer seeing it. It just takes a bit more work. And for those who are canceling their accounts over this, I echo that overused Internet meme: “You’re doing it wrong.”

(And yes, I know, some of the early furor was over a misunderstanding of what the default setting would be.)