Is there life beyond Facebook?

Is Facebook pulling the wool over users' eyes?

Imagine life without the Facebook. You may not have to imagine it; it could happen. Could you stand it?

Lemme think: I survived for a full and fruitful four decades without it. I do get sick of being digitally poked and prodded lately. We aren’t cattle after all, we’re sheep. (See “Like Facebook sheep to slaughter (LIKE!).) And don’t even get me started on Farmville; I strictly disallow such weed-like apps in my FB experience.

Facebook has its plusses: It has helped me reconnect with mentors whom I thought must have died by now. Funny how, in our teens and 20s, we assume all older people are WAY older; then, a few blinks later, they are our peers.

But be honest: We all have bones to pick with The Social Network. Its annoying layout changes no one requested; those creepy Big Brother ads that prove it does track our clicks and circulate our data; the peer pressure to friend strangers; the injustice of a Harvard dropout with few real-life friends becoming the youngest-ever billionaire with 750 million fake friends, 50% of whom log on every day to drain our nation’s productivity.

People spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook, according to its FAQ page. Ever more sites are enabling our addiction with automatic sharing buttons and access frames through which other apps peer. Facebook execs also are targeting struggling media companies with tips on piggy-backing hits.

This has gotta be irritating to other geeks. So why wouldn’t sabotage be tempting? Worst of all, Facebook is one of those companies that has exported its headquarters to Ireland to escape twice-as-high corporate U.S. taxes, which means all the income we generate for it is being exported overseas, along with American jobs.

And a personal thorn …

Facebook's sacrificial lamb: She was only exercising her free speech right.

In February 2010, my daughter, a heavy Facebook user, was kicked off because of its self-policing policy that empowers fellow users to report abuse, the equivalent of a citizen’s arrest.

The Dresden Dolls -- shown in proportion to band contribution (to be honest, c'mon, and I love Brian as much as the next fan)

Her crime: sheepishly playing along with one of those viral games — the one where you choose a famous doppelgänger as your profile picture. She identifies with Amanda “the ‘F’ word” Palmer, the better half of the punk-cabaret duo Dresden Dolls (sorry, Brian), and who is all about free speech, file-sharing and uploading video of their concerts. To accompany a solo album, Palmer had collaborated with her husband-to-be, Neil Gaiman, on a lovely coffeetable book, Who Killed Amanda Palmer. My daughter chose, from its array of murder vignettes, an especially edgy shot and, bam, deactivated, no questions asked, no true appeal process. After a month of peaceful protest, we had to pull a few strings to get her account restored.

If Facebook were to be taken down even for a day, I might see it a bit as comeuppance.

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But, really? A self-policing state, Facebook? Is that not socialism? Should we trust fellow users to make such judgments about what’s fair game, fair use, a fair call? Same thing with all these “report” buttons everywhere — “report as spam,” report abuse.” Even “like” and “dislike” have repercussions. Who is marking these things, and who comes along afterward as arbiter? No one. It’s chaos. It gives mere PEOPLE all the power!

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Anonymous, this is the forum you are targeting. Socialist or fascist or cultist (blind leading the blind) … whatever it is, it is populism at play. 

Since its initial threat in July, Anonymous has backpedaled on its spin, saying it isn’t really out to destroy Facebook — that this is merely an awareness campaign; its followers are anti-following prophets. The simple message: Don’t trust Facebook with your private info.

The cornerstone of any civilized society, though, is trust. Although it’s called a “free”way, we trust other drivers not to use the roads as bumper-car courses. We trust, when we type in our credit card number and security code to purchase an Ahh Bra, that we won’t get charged for a Wurlitzer jukebox shipped from Germany to New Zealand. We trust that the man dressed like a security officer is not going to start shooting young children or blow up buildings. Although there are always bad apples, we also trust that there will be someone to protect us, in the end. And sometimes, we err on the side of “benefit of the doubt.”

In Facebook we trust. The omniprescent.

The chosen one: Mark Zuckerberg

Still. Mark Zuckerberg is not my shepherd. And though I walk into the valley of Farmville, I fear Facebook’s evil.

So whose side am I on? It’s complicated, as is my relationship to Facebook.

If it turns out, on Nov. 5, that the new social order we’ve come to know as Facebook — my friends and I even talk about Facebook when we get together face to face! — should bow to anarchy and destruction, maybe I’d have time enough, at last, to read all of those books I never get a chance to read.

Just like the socially disconnected Burgess Meredith, below, in the conclusion of this three-part Twilight Zone episode (have we drained enough of your time yet?):

What IS Anonymous’ beef with Facebook?

“Question Authority” is a catchy mantra for someone in college. With the perspective of age, though, I wonder about the difference between questioning and challenging authority. Where do we draw the line, and where does it become illegal, i.e. harmful to society?

A 1960 picture book etched into my brain, written and illustrated by Jo Ann Stover.

favorite childhood book of mineIf Everybody Did by Jo Ann Stover — which, I realize now, formed the basis of my morality education at age 2 — posits a variation of the “jump off a cliff” refrain of parents: “What if everybody did?”

In other words, it might not hurt for me to litter my gum wrapper, but on the next page it would say, “What if everybody did?” and there would be a sea of gum wrappers, choking out all life and loveliness. Or, whom would it hurt if I spilled some tacks? Next page: This is what would happen if everybody did, and there would be people crying out in pain stepping barefoot on all the tacks. (Bonus lesson: It taught me the value of individuality, to not mindlessly follow the crowd. A bargain for a picture book priced today at $7.99.)

In my last post on Anonymous’ Nov. 5 threat against Facebook (not really a book), it wasn’t my intention to credit or blame the website as the sole driver of either social networking or flash mobs. Facebook simply gives a face to the phenom of society moving online. And The Social Network helped cement its marketing brand, although Facebook creators themselves staged a protest over that Oscar-winning spin.

More and more, as Facebook becomes the portal for Americans’ online experience — how many of you have it set as your “home” page? — the idea of any disruption of service starts to feel like a home invasion by people in freaky V for Vendetta-inspired Guy Fawkes masks.

So, what is Anonymous’ beef with Facebook?

Anonymity in the age of the Internet seems an oxymoron. Yet this loosely knit group of hacktivists thinks it knows enough to cover its tracks while it punishes the rest of us for being victims of sketchy privacy policies — for being naive or ignorant or, worse, too trusting.

It seems Anonymous considers Facebook fascist. 

Although I don’t condone hacking or theft, if you bother to read the available manifestos on Anonymous’ “OpFacebook,” the group’s ends, if not their means, do border on noble-sounding: A sampling:

  1. Expose Facebook’s crimes to as many people as possible.
  2. Scorn Facebook as much as possible in as many ways as we can scheme up.

For me, the jury’s still out on whether Anonymous is composed of freedom fighters or terrorists. Maybe Netflixing V for Vendetta would provide insight; alas I fear it, like this blog, offers more questions than answers.

In terms of cyberterrorism, though, I see little difference between Anonymous using our personal info without our knowledge to stage protests and the “evil empire” Facebook using our personal info in ways we user-sheep wouldn’t dream of. The real battle at hand may be as basic as geek vs. user. 

A Guy Fawkes mask. Guy Fawkes Day celebrates the day a British zealot was arrested, after his plot to blow up Parliament in 1605 was thwarted.

If I were Anonymous — and I’m far from it, just an overexposed blogger chick — I wouldn’t use as my default (profile picture) the face of a religious nut who sought to decimate the so-called reasonable representatives of the masses.

Is Anonymous’ true goal to get us to leave Facebook, to force positive change in its boardroom, or to destroy it — and online society — as we know it?

And, more important, what can I do to protect myself and my family? Even if I deactivated my account, it would be too late — my Facebook footprint is permanent and owned by a corporation. Hmm. Maybe it would be in my best interests if all that were destroyed.

Just don’t wanna lose my SCRABBLE stats and wry comments.

(In Part 2, we revisit our hero, Burgess Meredith, after the dastardly, senseless hydrogen bomb attack in Twilight Zone.)

Like Facebook sheep to the slaughter (LIKE!)

Sheep

On the bleat beat: Hackltivism BAAAAAAAAAD! (Image by James Good via Flickr)

Trembling, I type, joining a herd of quivering bloggers discussing Anonymous’ revolving threat to “kill” Facebook on Nov. 5. That would be Guy Fawkes Day, which honors a British zealot who in 1605 was thwarted in a plot to blow up Westminster Palace and the politicians meeting within.

Bleat the sheep: Hacktivism baaaaaaad. Facebook LIKE!

Still, I’m having trouble sorting out the “sides” in what seems a battle for cyberspace dominance lately. As a journalist, I thought “free speech” was always the good guy. Yet online, the idea seems in test mode, as social-media conflagrations blur lines of good and evil. 

Egypt sets off a chain reaction.

Take the increasingly popular “flash mob.” Once a vehicle for creativity and building community — e.g. stopping time in Times Square — it logically morphed into a tool of protest, e.g. Operation Hey Mackey, which took root in September 2009 at an Oakland Whole Foods to spotlight the “green” giant’s CEO’s seemingly hypocritical stance on health care.

Then from protest to revolution: Facebook famously provided the grid for the Mideast uprisings sown in Egypt in January, spreading democracy … we think. Taken to the extreme, flash mobs are becoming synonymous with crime — enter the looting gangs in Philadelphia and suburban D.C.

Can anarchy be far behind?

This past week, it looked like anarchy in San Francisco. Good vs. evil got blurrier as outrage over the July killing of a homeless man by Bay Area Rapid Transit system police escalated into scuffling protests which were, interestingly, incited by Anonymous and fueled by Facebook (on the same side?). In response, police shut down wireless access, clamping free speech — a blanket punishment to avert a blanket attack, confusing all of us about whose side the “authorities” are even on, and prompting compounded protests.

Confounding matters: Each “side” tries to blame the media for distorting its message … but who can even tell where media begin and end anymore? The “spin” on the Web is running rampant. I like to think of the news media as on the sidelines, as not having a side … but perhaps that exposes my naivete.

Here are two video messages representing two sides in the BART conflict. First, from “BART TV” — who knew? everyone has a channel! — with its “safety first” and “we’re doing this for your own good,” Brave New World feel:

Compare that to this creepy message from Anonymous:

Here’s hoping Nov. 5 proves a case of Bloggers Cry Wolf … as we bloggers feel especially vulnerable.

Privately, what makes me laugh is: At some level, we are all on the same side — wanting to be safe, free in speech and will, and at times just left alone in peace and anonymity.

(For your sidebar entertainment, here is a man terrorized both at work and in his own home for exercising his free speech right to read: Burgess Meredith, in Part I of a classic Twilight Zone episode.)