You'll never find me on Facebook. You may scoff at my refusal – I used to do the same, rolling my eyes whenever my elders claimed resistance to the latest internet phenomenon – but Facebook is a scary, commercial dead-zone that's killing our real-world relationships.
Like most Americans in their mid-twenties, I am a child of the computer age. That I did not immediately jump on the Facebook wagon is not due to an innate dislike of technology or an irrational fear of the web, but merely because I graduated from college before Facebook became a university fad. I was, like an ever-decreasing number of people, happily oblivious to this social networking website. But then something troubling happened: my wedding photos appeared on Facebook.
In a typical website, a user may upload a photograph, write a funny caption and that's it. But in Facebook, users are asked to identify who else is in the photo. This is the crucial difference that allowed a friend of a friend of a friend to view pictures of my wedding a bridesmaid had uploaded. Although neither my wife nor I had ever joined Facebook, our names, pictures, social connections and wedding photographs were already in its database. With 60 million users busily adding information about their hobbies, political positions, employment, education, friends and plans for the weekend, you too might be in Facebook without your knowledge.
My first reactions to learning about my presence on Facebook were contradictory. On the one hand, I felt the thrill of social connectedness – an exhibitionist feeling of delight at having my existence confirmed by a third party. But I also felt violated and confused. Having never used Facebook, I couldn't understand how my wedding pictures had gotten there or who was now able to view them. And I became concerned about what Facebook will do with the information it's collecting about me.
In a recent Fast Company magazine article, Facebook's vice-president of product marketing and operations explained that while companies like Google are concerned with "demand fulfillment" – helping a consumer find the product they want – Facebook is cornering the market in "demand generation" – subtly encouraging individuals to consume products and services they'd otherwise not care for.
The first step toward demand generation was encouraging users to share information about their interests, favorite movies and books, and political beliefs that would allow Facebook to send advertisements targeted to their demographic. The second controversial step that Facebook took is to partner with dozens of online retailers so that when a member buys a widget on a partner's site, all their Facebook "friends" find out. This sinister system would be akin to my computer automatically emailing my address book when I purchase a book online.
By turning members into consumers who involuntarily advertise to their friends, Facebook hoped to extract profit from social interactions. However, by commercializing friendships, Facebook has irrevocably destroyed its image. Now a vanguard of the anti-Facebook movement is developing out of an increasing disenchantment. No longer a fun, harmless place to hang out, Facebook has become just another commercial enterprise.
Because Facebook has intentionally made it very difficult for users to leave the site, demanding that they manually delete every bit of information that they added into the system before their account will be removed, a growing number of users are fleeing by committing what has been called "Facebook Suicide." By manually removing their Facebook friends before deleting their account, indignant users ensure that their friends are fully aware of the real reasons why they are leaving.
The movement could reach epidemic levels if more users kill off their electronic selves rather than submit to corporate control over their friendships. Facebook, and the other corporate lackeys, will then learn that they can't exploit our social relationships for profit. From viral growth will come a viral death as more people demand that Facebook dies so our friendships may thrive.