Why, despite myself, I am not leaving Facebook. Yet.

As my Facebook friends and Twitter followers know, like many others I’m angry at Facebook. I haven’t written a blog post about it because so many others have been making most of my points so eloquently (forgive me for not linking to them). But I relent, and here it is anyway, in the form of responses to the criticisms of criticism that I keep hearing:

(1) Twitter’s public, where’s the rage against Twitter?

Here’s the difference, and it’s a big one: When I signed up for Twitter, like everyone else who signed up for a public Twitter account, I knew it was public. There was an easy box to click: private or public? It said right there that if I chose private my tweets wouldn’t appear in the public timeline. Now there may be some users who didn’t infer that if they picked public, their tweets would appear in that timeline, but Twitter was always above board from the start that a public twitter account meant decontextualized public display and searchability of your tweets. That has never changed. Some whom I really respect are upset with the Library of Congress archiving tweets, but I view the Library of Congress as a very different entity from the unknown agencies to whom Facebook sells our data and don’t think a tit-for-tat comparison makes sense.

When I signed up for Facebook in early 2006, it boasted of its strong privacy, of my ability to control who saw what. I used it as a place to share things I didn’t want publicly searchable. Now I’ve been teaching about the internet long enough to know not to post things anywhere that I don’t want in the newspaper, but it nonetheless felt like a safe place to target messages toward a known audience rather than the hundreds of strangers who follow me on Twitter.

And then they changed the rules. Regularly. Repeatedly. And every time they did it required more research to understand what they’d done and more unclicking to preserve the premises they’d offered when I signed up. I was President of The Association of Internet Researchers, I read articles about Facebook every day, I check my settings regularly, and I still can’t keep up and I still get confused.

Facebook has engaged in a bait and switch. They promised privacy, they encouraged us to invest our data in it and build connections on that premise, and then, when we had built networks that really mattered to us, they changed the rules. Which brings me to…

(2) If you think it’s so evil, just leave.

Don’t think I don’t think about it. Every day. I look with admiration and envy on my friends who have left. I’ve also watched sadly as several have returned. And I note above all that very few of my friends, who by nature of our professional connections are probably more attuned to these issues than most, have left. I don’t like supporting Facebook at all. But I do.

And here is why: they provide a platform through which I gain real value. I actually like the people I went to school with. I know that even if I write down all their email addresses, we are not going to stay in touch and recapture the recreated community we’ve built on Facebook. I like my colleagues who work elsewhere, and I know that we have mailing lists and Twitter, but I also know that without Facebook I won’t be in touch with their daily lives as I’ve been these last few years. I like the people I’ve met briefly or hope I’ll meet soon, and I know that Facebook remains our best way to keep in touch without the effort we would probably not take of engaging in sustained one-to-one communication.

I know that I don’t NEED these little interactions but I also know that I like them very much and that my daily life would be less fun without them. The rewards of Facebook are concrete and immediate. The costs are abstract and ideological. When I try to balance the two, the rewards win, but that is because of my friends and despite Facebook. It is not evidence that Facebook is acting appropriately. Telling people with complaints to leave ignores the very real value of the networks they have built and what should be their right to continue those networks on the grounds on which they were built.

(3) Facebook needs to make money.

I agree. Facebook should make money. But I have yet to hear a convincing case that their strategy of itemizing every bit of data we give them, repackaging it into groups of people into that thing or into profiles they can sell for advertising purposes is the best way to do this. I haven’t heard compelling arguments that it is the only way to do this. What I hear is “Facebook needs to make money. Facebook thinks they can make money this way. Ergo, this is the way Facebook can make money.” You know, I’d gladly pay a subscriber fee to opt out of being data mined, though I wouldn’t propose it as a sole solution since it would mean privacy is only for people who can afford it. It is sad that such creative minds can only think of one business model. Where’s the innovation?

(4) If you don’t want it shared, don’t share it.

Setting aside the assumptions of privilege that this claim entails (like the legitimate safety of marginalized and oppressed people who should have a right to affiliate though social networking sites without fear of being identified as dissidents, GLBT, etc), ‘if you don’t want to share it, don’t post it’ completely misses the point. The willingness to disclose all our data to marketers should not be required to socialize. Imagine if AT&T said “we’re going to track all your calls and all your networks and we’re going to store keywords you mention and personal connections in your profile we’ll sell to others so we can insert ads before and after your phone calls. And if your friend calls from another carrier, we’ll share that data with their carrier too.” People would be mortified, legislators would snap to attention, and most users would probably switch carriers. But there is no other Facebook. We can’t switch carriers. We can only give up what we have now and go back to what we had before. You might say, “but you pay for AT&T” which brings me back to #3: Paying for Facebook with money is not an option.

So for now I’ve decided I am better off fighting the system from within. I AdBlock the ads, I have removed almost all my connections. My info is nearly empty. My settings are as locked down as I can figure out how to make them. Like many of my friends, my contributions to the site are increasingly pithy. Most of my posts these days serve to inform my friends who are not obsessed with the ethics of Facebook about what bad behaviors they’re up to this week. Using Facebook with the rules I signed on for makes me a subversive user. That’s wrong.

What I want is a Facebook that is premised on a belief that first and foremost human relationships are valuable and sacred, not the ground on which money trees grow, but that if the value of relationships is genuinely nurtured, there will be ways to earn money.

I want a Facebook that really believes that people have a right to select how their information will be shared, instead of a belief that they’re too dumb to figure it out if the settings are too confusing so it’s okay to dupe them.

I want a Facebook that can find creative ways to make a profit using the rules they originally set for their own game.

I want an ethical Facebook.

That shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Update: You can hear me discuss this more on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. There’s a stream, an mp3, a discussion, and more.

Note: This is closed for comments and trackbacks on account of spam deluges. If you want to post a real comment, please email it to me.

The book!

I am very happy to announce that my new book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, can now be previewed on Google Books. It will be out in the next few weeks. You can pre-order it here.

Here is what some of the internet researchers I admire most have to say about it:

“Nancy Baym distills decades of research on the ways in which online communication technologies shape our social relationships and daily lives into a very readable, enjoyable, and smart volume. Personal Connections is filled with insights of interest to anyone who has ever wondered about the differences between fact-to-face communication and messages shared via technologies such as Facebook, email, and blogs, or about the impact of these tools on society more generally. Written in a style that is accessible, witty, and personal, this fascinating book will be a valuable reference tool for scholars and of keen interest to a more general readership.”
Nicole Ellison, Michigan State University

“Lively and thought-provoking throughout, this book challenges the myth that ‘cyberspace’ dramatically transforms personal connections by revealing, instead, the complex and subtle ways in which people manage social interaction online and offline in response to the affordances of the various modes of communication available.”
Sonia Livingstone, London School of Economics and author of Children and the Internet

“Something is happening. Do you know what it is? Nancy Baym does, with a book bristling with ideas and authority. Filled with clear, lively writing, she both surveys and advances the field. I learned so much.”
Barry Wellman, University of Toronto

“Baym provides us a clear, concise, and thought-provoking discussion of the role of new digital media our interpersonal and societal relationships. She creates a welcome blend of her own and others’ research, the affordances and capabilities of new media, historical and technical contexts of the telegraph through the Internet, stable as well as changing societal norms, and her own Internet experiences.”
Ronald E. Rice, University of California, Santa Barbara

Popular Music Fandom: A One Day Symposium

This looks fun, sorry I won’t be there, but maybe you can be there:

Call For Papers:

Popular Music Fandom: A One Day Symposium

Binks Building, University of Chester
Northwest Popular Music Studies Network

Friday 25th June 2010

Keynote speaker: Matt Hills (author of ‘Fan Cultures’)

While a range of researchers in cultural studies – notably Henry
Jenkins, Matt Hills and Cornell Sandvoss – have moved the discussion
about media fandom forward, much less work has been done specifically on
popular music fandom. We invite contributors from a wide range of
disciplines to discuss topics associated with popular music fan culture
at this free one-day study event in Chester. Themes for papers may
include (but are not limited to):

•    Defining fandom
•    Stardom and celebrity, reading and textuality
•    Fandom and the consumer marketplace
•    Fans as musicians / musicians as fans
•    Perceptions of the music industry
•    Collecting and other fan practices
•    Live music, local scenes and fandom
•    Stereotyping, self-awareness and media representation
•    Gender, age and disability
•    Methodology and research practice
•    Theorizing fandom: processes, practices, identities
•    Issues of taste, social mobility and class
•    Personal narratives and investments
•    Case studies, ethnographies and histories
•    Fandom, heritage and tourism
•    Specific music genres: jazz fandom, metal, northern soul,
electronic music
•    Religion, modernity and the ‘cult’ analogy
•    The fan community: insiders, outsiders and the ‘ordinary’
•    Fan culture and the paradigm of performance
•    The ‘pathological’ tradition: questions of typicality and
•    Issues of race and nationality
•    Power, psychology and symbolic economy
•    Online participatory cultures

Papers will be twenty minutes in length. Please send an abstract of up
to 200 words along with your name, affiliation, paper title, postal and
email address to: Dr Mark Duffett, m.duffett@chester.ac.uk (marking your
email title ‘fan symposium’).

The deadline for abstracts is Monday May 10th 2010.

How to interview and SXSWi highlights

Back from my first SXSWi. General impression: A lot of wonderful people there, but way too many people. It was hard to find even the people I already knew, let alone meet new ones, though I did manage both.

I led a core conversation about interviewing, meant to pool our collective wisdom about how to be a good interviewer. It got nice write ups here and here.

I made up an interviewing cheat sheet, which you are welcome to use, reuse, recirculate or ignore as you see fit. Download it as a PDF.

My two favorite panels were Ze Frank’s and Devo’s. I have long admired Ze Frank’s amazing experiments in audience participation, including When Office Supplies Attack and Angrigami, and I expected him to be hilarious, which he was. I was not expecting him to be so insightful and moving. He spoke about how much emotion is out there on the internet, and how much it blows him away when he sees how people take the fun little tools he’s created at his site, like this flower maker, and use them to display and share profound feelings with one another. He also talked about making The Show as an experiment in living at the edge of continuous anxiety about not having anything to present and the ongoing process of learning to have faith and patience in his own creativity.

Devo presented a panel called “Devo, The Internet, and You” which was simultaneously a discussion of how they are seeking audience participation in their next album and a wicked wicked send up of corporate speak approaches to treating online audiences as marketing data.

Here is a link to their (unembeddable?) powerpoint which is more than worth the 1:43 it takes to watch it. Judging from the comments on the YouTube site, its status as parody wasn’t apparent to all, but it was crystal clear if you were there.  The highlight might have been the questions, when the audience slipped right into the same mode and asked lingo-laden queries that were as funny as the presentation (“I am really impressed at how you’ve managed to leverage synergies and I’m just wondering if there are any synergies you haven’t been able to leverage?” “Location seems to be increasingly important in this new millennium and I’m wondering if you are planning to offer location based services”). Mike Monello, of Campfire NYC, who’s a leader in transmedia storytelling (in addition to having been a maker of Blair Witch Project, he also does the transmedia for True Blood among other cutting edge projects) declared the panel “the definition of transmedia storytelling.” It was perfect.

I also enjoyed seeing Peter Sunde from Pirate Bay (and Flattr) skyped in from Sweden (“If I set foot in the United States I’d get sued so hard I’d never be able to leave”) who didn’t really say anything but was exceedingly funny and charming at it.

My biggest disappointments? Daniel Ek of Spotify offered no hope of a US launch anytime soon, and, yeah, that Twitter CEO keynote interview. Suffice to say the interviewer should have been at my session.

My biggest frustration? The panel on music curation. Anya Grundmann who’s in charge of NPRMusic.org was wonderful, but I was ultimately infuriated by music writer Chris Weingarten who at one point had the insight to say that “it’s not about finding a music blogger who has taste like you, it’s about finding a group of people who have similar taste” but ended up just whining that only the real (i.e. published in Rolling Stone like he is) music critics were capable of real critique and the rest were just wannabe fanboys driving the experts out of business. No sympathy here. And a total misunderstanding of the levels of in-depth critique fans practice every day.

p.s. best perks? Macallan’s ongoing free tastings of their 12 and 15 year scotches and free chair massage. I want that at all events I attend.

Going to SXSW Interactive?

I’ll be there, running a conversation about being a good interviewer. Not to be confused with being a good interviewEE.It’s a bit tangential to the usual stuff I do, but I’ve sure interviewed plenty of people, and I’ve taught interviewing for years and years, so it will be fun and useful for all. After all, even if you aren’t a professional interviewer, odds are you’re going to need to ask someone a series of questions at some point in your life, and doing it well is way better than doing it poorly!

It’s my first time at SXSW. Any advice on making the most of it, panels to catch, people to meet (you?), etc, most appreciated!