KJ (owlmoose) wrote,

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Why I will not be fannish on Facebook

For some time now, easily over a year, I've been hearing rumblings about the impending death of LJ as a service and/or as a community. This post hosts a fairly representative discussion, I think, of both the "Yes, LJ is dying" and the "no, LJ is not dying" sides of the conversation. No one posts here any more, the community is dispersing, everyone has jumped ship for MySpace/Facebook/Twitter/whatever the hot new thing is this month, etc. The inclusion of MySpace in the above list should be a good indicator of how old this meme is -- does anyone use MySpace anymore? I certainly don't hear it talked about nearly as much, except perhaps in music circles, and all the college students I know have certainly given it up, mostly for Facebook. All that aside, I have been seeing and feeling the effects of the various online migrations for some time now, but back in December, I found a post via metafandom that got me to thinking about the issue more seriously. The post is mostly about Dreamwidth and fannish migrations (and the lack thereof, in certain circles anyway, but that's a different conversation for a different day), but this paragraph really struck me:

Keeping in touch with friends as a major usage pattern is not going to move to DW, because it has already moved to Facebook. I hate it but there it is. I hate it because it removes the overlap between "keeping in touch with friends" and "making new friends"; I don't make new friends on FB. Do you? I also hate it because since I am on my real name on FB I have to keep everything suitable for the judge to see when I get sued for something fifteen years from now, not to mention suitable for professional contacts and many family members including my dad to see right at this very moment. That means no talking about sex, no talking about any but the most superficial bits of fandom, no talking about family....

Nonetheless, that's where my friends are. So I'm there too.

I read those words and winced with recognition. The migration was slow, and it's still not complete, but about six months ago I had to face the reality that the vast majority of my RL friends are no longer posting on LJ, and most of them are also no longer reading. My fandom connections haven't moved as quickly, or as completely, probably because Facebook is not a friendly interface for posting fic or other fanworks. But it does seem that a fair amount of the social interaction -- the daily life talk, the chatting, the random linkage -- has disappeared, and Facebook is a likely destination for at least some of it.

It took me awhile to realize that folks had moved to FB, though, because I resisted doing more than creating a basic account for a long time. Years. Mainly for the second reason listed above: Facebook operates entirely on the assumption that you have given the service your real name and that you are willing, even happy, to share all your personal information with everyone you know, and some people you don't. Of course, it's perfectly possible to give Facebook a false name -- it's not as though anyone is going to come around and check -- and you can lock down most of your privacy settings. But that's not how the system is meant to be used. If you look at Facebook's defaults, and the design of their settings pages (ie. which settings are easy to find and which are all-but-hidden), it's clear that the bias is toward sharing information with as many people as possible. As this excellent article from the Electronic Frontier Foundation analyzing Facebook's changes to privacy settings in December '09 points out:

The privacy "transition tool" that guides users through the configuration will "recommend" — preselect by default — the setting to share the content they post to Facebook, such as status messages and wall posts, with everyone on the Internet, even though the default privacy level that those users had accepted previously was limited to "Your Networks and Friends" on Facebook.

Everything on Facebook -- the photo-tagging function, all the various link and post-sharing features, the apps (especially the apps) -- depends on your willingness to share your personal information with not only your friends, but by proxy everyone else on Facebook. Given that I've gone to some trouble to keep my LJ and other fandom-related activity decoupled from my RL name, you can probably see why I haven't exactly jumped to move my journaling to Facebook.

My other problem with Facebook as a fannish platform is that it's a walled garden. Even if a post, photograph, or whatever is set as visible to "everyone", you still have to be logged in to Facebook in order to see it. (That's my impression anyway; browsing through Facebook's FAQ, I can neither confirm nor deny. Anyone know?) And I am very uncomfortable with the idea of forcing anyone to sign up for a service that I have so many misgivings about myself. This complaint may seem like a contradiction on its face, but I actually think they are related. In both cases, it's about giving Facebook control over aspects of my online interaction that I would rather control myself.

Contrast this with LJ, a company that has made more than its share of missteps, most recently the issue with requiring users to label themselves as "male" or "female", with no "decline to state" option or opt-out. (A move, by the way, that Facebook made over a year ago, and is somewhat aggressive about enforcing.) But there was user outcry, and subsequently they took it back. They claimed it was a coding error that would never have gone live, an explanation that many find fishy; but I don't think it really matters. It didn't happen, and is not likely to happen in the future. Whatever concerns I have about LJ, this is one things that I've noticed: they screw up, they listen, they learn. And they have never really given me reason to be concerned about privacy, certainly not on the level that Facebook has. They provide me the flexibility I needs to control what personal information I give out to whom.

I realize that it's next to impossible to be truly anonymous on the Internet, and I've likely left enough breadcrumbs over the years that someone who was determined to link this account with my RL name could do so. But a casual Google searcher couldn't do that, which is what I care about. And barring some tectonic shift in their philosophy, Facebook is never going to give us that level of control. As long as this remains the case, LJ will remain my primary online home.
Tags: fandom, internet, meta

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