Facebook is what its name says it is: a book of (public) faces looking out at the world.

Dan Yoder has a very insightful blog detailing the 10 reasons he plans to delete his Facebook account.  I agree with every one of his rationales for abandoning Facebook, all of which have something to do with Facebook’s cavalier and entrepreneurial attitudes concerning privacy. 

But while I agree with everything Yoder says, I nevertheless do not recommend that anyone get off Facebook.  Rather, I suggest that my readers understand what Facebook is and for what ends it should be used.

I see four broad ways that people and organizations are currently using Facebook:

  1. As their electronic face to the world, a formal portrait of what they’re doing, similar to that annual letter you copy and send to distant relatives and high school buds, or the two-minute state-of-the-family-or-firm spiel you give at parties or meetings to people you’ve just met or hardly know.  As a formal “face,” Facebook is remarkable because it is so easy to update and enables you to communicate in a variety of media by attaching photos, music, videos and other links.  It also enables you to keep up with the goings-on of all those people with whom you want to have a casual, “I wonder where their daughter ended up going to graduate school” relationship.  In a sense, Facebook automates the occasional letter or phone call, although it does so in a way that can potentially merge your public (business) and private lives.
  2. To express their daily thoughts and actions, another version of Twitter.
  3. To manage their emails.
  4. As portal to a wide array of online games, entertainments and services.

My belief is that there is only one proper and appropriate use for Facebook: the first one I mentioned, to serve as your electronic formal face to the world, a kind of ever-morphing multi-media resume.  To a great extent the other three uses all fall under the category of management of one’s life, or at least one’s life on-line.  It’s in these life management functions that people convey information the confidentiality of which is at risk by virtue of putting it anywhere on Facebook.

I sometimes tell my public relations clients that there are three types of information.  Here they are, with some non-business examples:

  • Information you want people to know and that you’re happy to volunteer, e.g., your son just won another scholarship or you’re giving a lecture before a prestigious professional association.
  • Information that you would share with others, but often only if asked by certain people, such as a cell phone number to a new acquaintance or your health records to a new primary care physician.
  • Information that you would never tell anyone, e.g., the fact that you would cheat on your spouse to be with Michelle Obama.

As with any other “public face,” a Facebook page should include only that information you want everyone to know, or, stated in the negative, only information about which you don’t care who knows.  Keep all other information off Facebook, and that should include all email messages you want to send or receive. 

In other words, don’t use Facebook to manage your life, because when you run your life through Facebook, as many people seem to be doing, you are putting at risk the confidentiality of information which when pieced together define how you live.  As Yoder points out, you are playing by Facebook’s rules, and what’s good for Facebook definitely is not good for your privacy!

At heart, I don’t believe anyone wants to run their life in public or have its details available for analysis.  Instead, I think most of us just want our occasional five minutes of applause—and Facebook is a great advance over former technologies for making sure we all can bask in these Warholian moments.       

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One comment on “Facebook is what its name says it is: a book of (public) faces looking out at the world.
  1. paul sheldon says:

    In response to your material regarding Facebook uses and your three types of information:

    I employ both #1 & #2 uses that you identify for Facebook. I see Facebook as not only useful to keep in touch socially (#1), but as an avenue for expressing my views (as expressed in certain “thoughts and actions” as you put it in #2) to the public. My posts of this sort are intended to be public, serving as a briefer and more accessible variant of my blogs. As one committed to education, I see value in this.

    Regarding your third type of information, don’t put ANYTHING of a seriously private or confidential nature on a computer. There is no security. Keep any essential records OFF your computer and adequately backed up and coded. Better yet, don’t have secrets.

    My concern with Facebook is that as it becomes essentially viral and more intrusive, it loses all value. If things continue in that direction, I will simply drop it and seek out a better alternative.

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