MySpacing Facebook

What will it take for Facebook to lose its cool?

Photo by Joshua Lott - The New York Times - Redux

For the third time, a groundswell of outrage is rising against Facebook's commercialization of friendship. The anti-Facebook movement began in 2007 with their introduction of "Beacon," a feature that gave external commercial websites private information about logged in users for the purposes of targeted advertising. Shocked users launched online petitions, posted angry status updates and filed a class action lawsuit. Officially, Facebook capitulated and Beacon was abandoned nine months ago. But then, only three months after their apparent concession, Facebook committed what has come to be known as "Facebook’s Greatest Betrayal": they retroactively changed their privacy policy, publicly revealing the formally private information of its 400 million members. Again, users got angry and protested but CEO Zuckerberg didn't budge and opposition effectively died. Now, believing that its users have been forced into submission, Facebook has gone for the kill -- reinventing Beacon in its most sinister form.

Deceptively known as "social plug-ins," Facebook's new system for giving commercial websites access to your personal information is to scatter "I like" buttons around the web. These buttons are ostensibly to allow users to identify what they like on the Internet. But the real benefit for the fat-cats at Facebook is the lucrative deals with corporate websites they stand to make because these buttons will give Facebook the ability to grant certain, undisclosed sites access to your Facebook information without your prior consent. If the "like button" is on a site, and you are a Facebook user, then your information will be transmitted automatically to these chosen sites. Your profile, the names of your friends, your favorite books and more will be used to sell you junk. All that data you entered into Facebook has become a goldmine for hungry advertisers looking to "personalize" their ads and Zuckerberg stands to make a mint.

Facebook has irrevocably tarnished its reputation in its bald pursuit of money. It has cashed in on its former reputation as a cool, hip online hangout and is now just another MySpace — a corporate-owned digital swamp of advertising. And while you may expect another round of anger, this time the reaction is eerily different. Past protests were done under the assumption that Facebook was our community and that it could be changed by our demands. But now that myth is shattered and the realization is dawning that the best tactic is not calls for reform but uncooling.

With more and more people coming to the quietly indignant realization that Facebook is lame like Myspace, the site is facing inevitable decline. And as a growing percentage of the site starts to log out, we will see the emergence of a new social networking platform built on non-commercial principles for the benefit of friendship and not consumerism.

Micah White is a Contributing Editor at Adbusters and an independent activist. www.micahmwhite.com or micah (at) adbusters.org