What’s Wrong with the World

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Privacy is not a setting

Full disclosure: I do have a Facebook account. But if you aren't already one of my Facebook friends, and if you aren't a personal friend, at this point you might as well not bother sending me a friend request, because I'm rationing my acceptances severely. In fact, I don't know if I'll continue on Facebook over the long term, so it might be counterproductive to accept more friends.

There are so many things one could say about problems with Facebook that one could write a very long post on the subject. Covering all of them won't be my goal here. The spam issue alone has nearly driven me to shut down my account; I know how to be careful about what I click on, but some of my friends do not, and this causes things to show up on my newsfeed that I never want to be even that close to.

One of the chief reasons why you should, in my opinion, discourage your friends and especially your children from having accounts with Facebook (or Twitter, etc.) is because of the erosion of a sense of privacy.

People who grew up in the pre-Facebook era have a natural, I'm inclined to say a God-given, sense of privacy. Simply put, you don't want everyone or just anyone in the world to know everything about you. "Sharing" is not an end in itself, and the idea of sharing all the details of your personal life and your deepest thoughts with total strangers causes warning signals to go off. This is healthy. This is a normal part of the sense of self-protection. At the most basic prudential level, the human desire to preserve privacy protects one from attackers, stalkers, and identity thieves. At the professional level, a sense of privacy can prevent young people from leaving a pixel-trail that prospective employers can read containing photos of themselves and all their thoughts and religious, political, and professional opinions from their youth upwards. But beyond the obvious (or to some, disconcertingly not-so-obvious) practical benefits, there are psychological and interpersonal benefits of a sense of privacy as well.

The share-share-share culture undermines the sense of privacy directly. Default settings on Facebook share all your information with "friends of friends." Facebook's bots tirelessly suggest to you that you "friend request" more people and that more people "friend request" you. Games and apps. pop up in your newsfeed suggesting pointless and even offensive interpersonal interactions. ("So-and-so answered a question about you. Click here to see what he said." "Would Jackie ever get involved in a street fight?" "Do you think Joan has a crush on you?") If you post a picture of your family to Twitter, anyone can retweet it anywhere, so that the name, birthday, and picture of your adorable two-year-old can very easily end up being viewed by anyone anywhere in the world. (Again, even from a practical perspective, I am constantly struck when dealing with bills or medical appointments by the use of date of birth as an important piece of identifying information. Don't "tweet" your wife's birthday!)

The barriers are down. The sense of self-protection is regarded as unnecessary and paranoid. "I have nothing to hide" is considered admirable. But you should have something to hide. That's why people wear clothes. Social networking urges us to be metaphorically "naked" around large numbers of people.

Interpersonally and psychologically, here is what this can very easily mean: Suddenly, the user of Facebook has a very intimate "friendship" with a lot of people he has never met. He shares with them his passing thoughts and tons of information about himself and his family, with photos, which are recorded for as long as hard-drives spin and which can be read and viewed over a period of months and years past by anyone whose friend request he accepts. Conversely, he knows all about these other people--all their thoughts, what is bothering them at the moment. Instant intimacy is set up, and if one goes on accepting large numbers of friends, this can easily lead to a feeling of "intimacy overload." Irritations arise when your friends say things you don't agree with or vice versa. You can find out things you never wanted to know about people. There are limitless opportunities--far more than in ordinary face-to-face life--for fights and antagonism. If you scarcely knew someone before accepting him as a Facebook friend, you have just made yourself vulnerable to a comparative stranger, and vice versa, to an extent that used to be possible only over months and years, if ever, between two people.

Facebook deals with privacy by giving you "privacy settings." Mind you, even finding all of the relevant settings is daunting, and they change frequently. If you don't want insane and utterly unexpected "sharing" of your information without your knowledge or consent, you have to be constantly on your toes, and advising a new user about all the settings he needs to change is impossible unless you have a photographic memory or keep an on-going list. But beyond this, the very idea that privacy in this context can be created or restored by a setting is misguided. By its very nature, electronic social networking is anti-privacy. Its whole point is the sharing of information, the development of large numbers of instant and almost shockingly close relationships. No privacy setting can change this fact.

In fact, social networking is based on an advertising approach, as if you were trying to sell yourself. By the miracle of modern technology, it is now made easy for you to "connect with" as many people as possible in as short a time as possible and to tell them all about yourself. That would be great if you were a product. Someone selling a product wants to get the word out to as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. But you are not a product. You are a person. And telling everybody all about yourself as quickly as possible should not be one of your goals in life.

For that reason, if you have not already been drawn into the world of social networking, I urge you: Don't do it. Do as I say, not as I do. And if you've already been drawn in, hold it lightly and be prepared to let it go in the end.

Privacy is not a setting.

Comments (60)

In fact, social networking is based on an advertising approach, as if you were trying to sell yourself.

That is exactly how Facebook is used by the narcissistic people in your life, as a propoganda machine to present a false front to the world, while behind the scenes they poison the lives of their husbands and especially their children.


Not only should you accept friends very selectively, you should also be wary of those who do not.

Strangely enough it was not the privacy argument that ended up causing me to leave Facebook. It was little irritations like the impersonality of interaction with my friends (real life or just facebook); the constant changes that confused me; and ultimately this poem: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/30299

I hope it doesn't sound overdramatic to say I made a major change due to a poem, but it really did cause me to reasess what I was doing. Also, I felt it was ultimately self-exalting to be on Facebook. I'd post an "hilarious" status and was excited when I would receive over 15 "likes." I guess it was just too much me. I know some people handle it well, but I didn't.

Funny that you mentioned the human as product toward the end. Facebook IS after all a business. Someone had to create it and someone has to make money off of it or it collapses. Most people think that Facebook is the supplier (and they would be correct) and they are the customers (and they would be wrong). The customers are the third party applications or companies that use Adspace on Facebook. The users are indeed the product. We know every company needs to make money to survive (this is, after all, America), but people need to be aware that when they use Facebook they are submitting to being the product.

I don't understand how people get sucked into Facebook. I spend maybe 5 minutes a week, and that's only to check notifications...if there are none--and there usually aren't--log off again. Overall, the only thing I currently use Facebook for is planning a vacation with some friends via a group message. I only have about 50 friends now, due to deleting everyone that I haven't spoken to in over a year (others find this strange).

I'm not a normal person, and I guess that explains it, but Facebook has never held much allure for me.

The sense of self-protection is regarded as unnecessary and paranoid.

Said the Masked Chicken. I started out using the Masked Chicken nom-d'Internet because it helps me be careful and measured on my blog posting, but the more I read about hackers, etc., the more I am glad that I hide behind pseudo-anonymity (anyone who really wanted to know who I am - hi, mom, could easily find out who I am, anyways).

The Chicken

Dr. McGrew:

I appreciate your thoughts. To expand on them, I like Facebook. I have made some great professional contacts on there in philosophy and theology (one of whom is your husband). On the other hand, I cannot help being frustrated as well. It does erode friendships and relationships. We're no longer doing the hard work of getting to know someone by dialogue or conversation. In short, we're mindlessly mining information about a person without getting to know the person himself or herself. We don't do the difficult thing of relating to a broken and imperfect person, but instead have a sanitized means of grasping the concept of the person. Relating to people directly can mean injury or worry, but it is also the only means to fulfilling true relationships.

Warmest Regards,


Well, now I know why my friend request from six months ago never got accepted. :)

Kevin, you're quite right about the benefits of something like Facebook. I actually consider that I have been lucky; I've gotten in touch with some great people in that way and am privileged to know them electronically. But I recognize that that _is_ luck--Providence, to be more specific, but a Providence that one can't always assume will work out that way. My thoughts here were particularly inspired by the question, "Why should a teenager or young adult not get a Facebook account?" The younger the person, the more unacceptable the risks, and that along many different axes. Yet I'm inclined to think that even a much older person stands as a sheer matter of probability to lose more than he stands to gain.

Hi Lydia

I spent a brief period of time on Facebook (I don't recall seeing your page). Thankfully I was able to withdraw gracefully when educationalists in my board were advised not to access social networking sites.

Facebook seemed to be the opposite of a diary. Instead of recording my deepest thoughts for personal reflection, I was urged to publicise inane ephemera for public consumption.

I was also uncomfortable with the lack of civility. I had Facebook friends who were atheists, some who were agnostics and, of course, Christian friends too. They would all state their views as if everyone on the board was singing in the same choir. There's no room for debate on Facebook, but plenty of room for hysterical screaming.

There was no sense that Facebook was a public forum: the assumption was that everyone should automatically agree with your politics, or theology or scepticism. It's all terribly narcissistic.

It's also an interesting commentary on materialism. Nowdays I can't speak to a friend without enduring an advertisement. And if we banned people from discussing what they were spending and why, Facebook would go off-line. For pities sake, we even have to take photos of our purchases for others to salivate over...here's my new car, my latest holiday, our new kitchen, here's us having an expensive meal...

There. I feel better having vented!


I'll say one thing in fairness to my FB friends, Graham: I scarcely ever feel like they are advertising what they are spending on. Maybe most of them don't have any money?

I realize that this isn't _directly_ pertinent to your comment, but speaking of enduring advertising, I want to say right now that I highly recommend ad blocking software. It exists for both IE and Firefox. (You have to pay a fairly nominal fee for the IE software.) I believe Chrome has it too, though I don't have Chrome, so I haven't checked it there. It's the most wonderful thing. It's not quite as "smart" on IE as on Firefox--more inclined to block things one wants and occasionally misses things that really are ads. But it's marvellous to have on any public site, including Facebook. When I use any computer that doesn't have ad blocking software, I feel assaulted.

Facebook is a PR site where you can promote yourself. Narcissists think that every little thing they do is important to all their "friends" who must ache to know all the minutiae of your life, as though you were a celebrity. Facebook is a pile of manure, and the buzzing of flies is maddening.

"We know every company needs to make money to survive (this is, after all, America) ..."

In fact, it's far worse than that: even companies outside America need to consistently produce profit if they intend to survive.

Not even idle curiosity has tempted me to visit the Facebook site. I've never signed up with any social network that exists online or in what passes for 'real life'.

Groucho Marx is supposed to have said, "I would not join any club that would have someone like me for a member". That's my sentiment too. I'm an unclubbable drifter.

I have a facebook account. The profile pic isn't me, the 'personal info' isn't me, the location isn't me and the name isn't me. The associated email is a hotmail address that I made for that purpose.

Works well. Just don't even put anything on facebook that you don't want everyone and their brother to see. Actually, that's pretty much the rule for the whole internet.

Just don't even put anything on facebook that you don't want everyone and their brother to see. Actually, that's pretty much the rule for the whole internet.

I would love for everyone to see the truth. If I put it on the Internet, do you think everyone will see it :)

Seriously, I long for the Good-ole-days when the Internet was dial-up and text-based bulletin boards.

The Chicken

Who needs Facebook when you have LinkedIn for professional use. For messing around and cross posting there is always the usenet. :-)


I don't have much to add to this conversation as I've never had any interest in Facebook and already knew enough to keep my girls away from the site. However, my all time favorite piece of writing on the subject remains this classic:


I love Labash's article, too, Jeff. Thanks for posting the link -- I hadn't bookmarked it and couldn't remember where it was; another one for my students to contemplate when I have them write their essay on the problems of social networking!

I do, however, have a FB account and visit it with some regularity. If I didn't, I'd never see a picture of any of my grandchildren again! We've also used it -- after phone calls, of course, to initially give important news -- for posting information (to a private family group we formed) about surgeries, memorial services, and such; since the family is literally scattered from coast to coast with weird working hours to boot, this has helped us not to play phone tag all day or accidentally wake someone up at 4:00 a.m. with non-urgent information. And we use the message function just like normal email to write extended letters to each other.

I accept "friend" requests (I do hate using that word that way, though) from students (college level), and I've found that they are immensely appreciative if I email them when they post comments about a negative or positive experience or if they've been ill or discouraged; this has actually been a not uncommon way to get them to come in to see me in my office, when they realize I pay attention and care about them. And I'm not above privately contacting them with questions/rebukes if I think they have posted something inappropriate; they offered me access and I use it, maintaining my position as an authority in their lives. But I'm blessed to have had many very thoughtful, articulate, and serious-minded students who mainly post actual interesting information about books or films or theology or whatever. It's amazed me, too, how many of them tag me for things they find that pertain to inside jokes and intense discussions from our classes years ago; teachers rarely get to see that they've had any influence at all, much less one that has lasted more than one semester at best, so that's been a source of encouragement.

The criticisms given in this post and the comments are all valid, yes; but individuals don't have to use FB as an exercise in narcissism and can encourage others to use it in better ways, too. The privacy issues Lydia is most concerned with here are very important, though, and I absolutely agree that we should keep our children off it until they are older (we didn't let our youngest -- the only one it was an issue with -- have a FB account until he was in late high school, and he had to "friend" us with it so we could see what was going on); and if we let them get on to FB or any such site, it's really important to monitor it and make sure they use it well and pay close attention to who can see what.

(And if you are prone to use the web in any way for procrastination, FB can be the absolute death of productivity. It doesn't tempt me that much; I look at the first few items in the news feed, check notifications, check my children's pages for any comments I may have missed that I'd like to know about, and that's it. I know people who spend hours a day browsing everything there . . . boring! Now, give me websites like this one and I can waste my whole day reading comments . . .!)

Now, give me websites like this one and I can waste my whole day reading comments . . .!)

What, you too? Same with me, except I insist that we change "waste" to something less loaded, say "unintentionally and without forethought expands to fill 3 times the available time." Doesn't change the reality, though.

Social networking as a selective and private way to share information and media with people you know well but from whom you are geographically separated, can be a good thing, in theory. Pictures and videos of the grandkids for Grandma is the classic use case.

Unfortunately the Facebooks of the world make it literally impossible to do so without swallowing some very serious poison pills along with the good stuff. Facebook's founder is on record as wanting to change the human race through social networking to be more "open" -- that is, to destroy the privacy and selectivity of our interactions with fellow human beings. Even constant vigilance isn't enough to stem the privacy/discrimination creep. I don't think the correspondence of this with modern attitudes about nondiscrimination and equality is just a coincidence.

It will be interesting to watch what develops with Google+, which is aimed directly at Facebook's privacy shenanigans. Google is a very different company from Facebook: they are basically a bunch of uber-nerds asking the question "how do human beings actually interact", and trying to facilitate that interaction over the Internet. While I often disagree very strongly with their conception of what is and isn't evil, they do take their slogan "don't be evil" very, very seriously. This contrasts starkly with Facebook's hoodie-wearing college hookup "friends with benefits" corporate culture. Pass the popcorn, 'cause it could get interesting.

Zippy, I read an article (for which I didn't save the link) that implied that Google+ requires that you "sign" an extremely strong release of all your content to them. The implication was that this is stronger than anything Facebook requires. True or false, based on your info?


I'll say one thing in fairness to my FB friends, Graham: I scarcely ever feel like they are advertising what they are spending on.

I think that it reflects well on your FaceBook friends; they've better things to talk about!
My wife uses facebook to stay in touch with friends and family. It can be an useful tool - there's little doubt about that. And I suppose that it is unreasonable to blame the maddening characteristics of consumerism on Facebook.

But I still felt better after the rant.


What I recall reading for Google+ is that they retain the right to use *any* of the content you post for the "sole" purpose of marketing Google+. That did not make me want to put *anything* on it. It certainly sounded to me like they could take something I posted just to a limited friends circle, say a photo, and give it to the whole world for advertising purposes. If I can find it again, I'll post it; it could be I misread, but the first time I read it I thought it was saying they would hold *all rights* to all content -- then I saw that they ameliorated that with "solely for advertising" statement. Not much amelioration, that.

Zippy, yes, I'm aware of all that. It's good for people to know, and I work diligently at, essentially, forcing my students to hear it - -because the majority of them are *going to use* these sites. At the same time, I'm not missing out on pictures over it :) and I do think it makes a difference, for at least some of the people I know (family and students/former students), that I'm there -- they think twice about what they post.

Of course, maybe I'll find out it's irredeemable even for people like me. We'll see.

To put my comments into context, I am a Luddite at heart. I refused to carry a mobile phone, until my mother bought me one for Christmas, just before my 34th birthday.

For the last two years I have been forced to carry a device which allows colleagues and family members to locate me when I try to hide with a book and a caramel latte. This is the tyranny of modernity... Orwell never warned me about this!


You should upgrade your phone, Graham. My last one came with an on/off button. :)

We just got a cell phone this year, too -- mainly because I was traveling by myself, and my mom doesn't have internet access, which I needed during the time I was there.

However -- I am adamantly opposed to anyone's finding me when I don't want to be found. That's what the "silence" and "off" features are for! And no one gets the number except family (we have five kids scattered about the country; now they can leave a message in the middle of the night without waking me up). One can always claim forgetfulness about turning the phone back on, or charging it in a timely fashion, too. :) For me, that 's not something I have to lie about!

Oddly, once you have have a mobile phone people expect you to keep it on.

Whereas, before I had the phone people just thought that I was odd.


I still forget to turn it on, thankfully. Absent mindedness is a wonderful thing sometimes.

In fairness to FB, they have a setting (!) that, as I understand it, says, "Heck no, you can't use my pictures in ads." I found that setting once and fixed it. Not sure I could find it again, though...

I ask in all ignorance: whats so muchbetter about Facebook, Google+ than having an address book?

The Chicken

MC, I love calling and talking to my kids; some of them call us regularly, others not so much. They won't write letters anymore, though, or send pictures -- because they can let us know what's going on and post pictures more quickly and cheaply online. FB lets them share with the whole family with great ease. Just the way they are, and I can't really *demand* that they send me "real" photos and write snail-mail letters -- I won't get them if I do. So I use FB because I want to watch my grandbabies grow up (I almost never see them), and if I want real photos I can download what they post and have them produced at WalMart. Life with Generation whichever-they-are kids. :)

I can't really *demand* that they send me "real" photos and write snail-mail letters

But to see something in someone's own hand is precious. The letters of saints are considered second-class relics. Their e-mails? Bah...

The Chicken

I agree -- but I can't *make* them believe it!

My 3900 "friends" would disagree with you, but there's no "unlike" button. :-)

I was on Facebook briefly but didn't like it much, so I took my page down. It does seem to me to be largely an exercise in narcissism, something which our culture most assuredly does not need more of.

I don't text, and my cell phone is never on unless I'm doing something which I don't mind being interrupted. I leave it off when eating, watching a movie, shopping, etc. In fact, if I didn't have an elderly parent and a teenage daughter to worry about, I probably wouldn't have one at all.

Under no circumstances will I ever have one of those cell phone thingies you wear in your ear. They look ridiculous and besides, unless you're the Pope or the President or a member of the secret service, YOU'RE NOT THAT IMPORTANT!

I live far away from most of my relatives, so I've enjoyed using Facebook to re-connect with them. They've enjoyed seeing & sharing old ancestral photos. I've drawn a limit for "friends", too--no one has 1200 friends.

3900 friends, 1200 friends...really..just how many of them will be coming to your funeral? We used to call the "friends" of Facebook, for the most part, "aquaintances." In Sirach, I think, it says, let your aquaintances be many, but your friends be few.

The Chicken

This is a little off topic, but when the British Press aren't hacking into mobile phone messages, and need a quick scoop, they frequently turn to Facebook. For example most of what we know about a nurse charged with deaths at Stepping Hill hospital comes from her Facebook page.
Now this is lazy journalism; Nick Davies at the Guardian has railed against it for years. Yet when the press gained access to Anders Behring Breivik's Facebook page (which should be blocked) we actually learned something about the fragmented mind of a man who could clinically gun down over 80 young people in cold blood.

"Breivik's Facebook page was blocked, but a cached version describes a conservative Christian from Oslo. The profile veers between references to lofty political philosophers and gory popular films, television shows and video games. The account appears to have been set up on 17 July. The site lists no "friends" or social connections."

Then the press dicovered that he quoted JS Mill on Twitter just before the shootings. So Facebook might have revealed something about the state of the modern mind here. It's hopelessly fragmented, and no-one will be able to put this mess back together again.


On a more disturbing note - some elements of the British Press, who cannot even be bothered to scan a Facebook page, are referring to Breivik as a "Christian Fundamentalist". Even at the height of Northern Ireland's Troubles no one referred to the IRA or UVF as "Christian Fundamentalists". There was a clear understanding that there was no conection between Christian belief and illegal violence. Loyalism and Nationalism explained the Troubles.
So why the rush to label Breivik as a "Christian Fundamentalist" when his actions were motivated by an incoherent Nationalism?


"Unite all your children wherever they may be" used to be a line from a Eucharistic Prayer in the Mass.

If you use FB to evangelise in a newsy sort of way, its just a different mode to a blog or website like this.

Who says you're required to include inane status updates or divulge any private information you'd rather not?

With that in mind, you can quickly organise to meet for Christian or political gatherings, quickly respond to news of interest to the Christian community and explain Christianity in a way that would seem intrusive to non-Christian family members or friends in ordinary life. They can read the articles you link to on your FB page if they like and accept or reject our deepest Christian convictions. At least they won't be allowed to maintain strange but comforting conceptions about what Christianity actually is. It is much too easy to remain in secularist bubbles these days.

I think FB is a required forum for evangelisation and I encourage all Christians to propose Jesus Christ on FB with the loving conviction of His victory that the apostles had.

And the shameless Frankie Schaeffer has made the link between Breivik and, well, me and my family.


I'm pro-life. I believe in traditional Christian virtues. So I must want to bomb liberals.
(This could actually get nasty for conservative Christians in some parts of the world.)


Who says you're required to include inane status updates or divulge any private information you'd rather not?

Martin, nobody is _required_ to do anything. But we would be stupid if we didn't recognize the type of activity social networking sites encourage--lots of self-revelation. It needn't be inane. I post on FB cute things my children say or new recipes I'm trying. Remember, I do have a FB account. I don't consider that what I do there is "inane." I do consider, however, that the site encourages me to reveal a lot about myself and also _constantly prompts_ me to accept friend requests from people, when I might not know those people from Adam or might know very little about them. It also prompts me to send "friend" requests to people. And every time one logs in the status update box says, "What's on your mind?" This strongly encourages a lot of personal sharing, a level of knowledge and intimacy at a speed that did not used to be possible and that ordinary, non-Facebook life does not constantly prompt and push among people who scarcely know each other, and I'm saying in the main post that this has real dangers.

To say that it is "required" for evangelism is just, frankly, silly. I'm not saying it is _wrong_ to use the forum for that purpose. Each person has to make his own decisions. I am saying that the risks and the deleterious changes encouraged to our society should not be minimized or scoffed at and that if people decide not to participate their decision will have plenty to be said for it.

Amen to all that, Lydia!

Required for evangelisation just means being who we are as a new creation, as people whose minds have been renewed. Evangelisation today is almost the same as 'not subscribing to secularism'.

Perhaps ladies experience a uniquely female temptation here. I don't mean to demoralise you if you feel it is a stumbling block. For what its worth it is completely opaque to my male imagination - FB is a public forum why would anyone risk divulging info that could harm their family? I understand the life of the tribe depends upon women sharing this kind of information among themselves, men don't do this as far as I know.

Best wishes.

Martin, I'm afraid you are quite naive here. It is men who "tweet" their wives' birthdays to all umpteen of their "followers"! FB encourages you to post not only your birthday but also your anniversary, and it is considered simply good manners for both men and women to call attention to their anniversaries and their spouse's birthdays on FB, to express thankfulness to God for the spouse and so forth. Men do this at least as much as women.

Men are also no more immune to the pressures to have many FB "friends" than women. Often less immune. Just tonight I was noticing FB's "friend finder" function which urges you to have FB search your entire list of e-mail contacts and, presumably, suggest that you "friend" them (or, heaven help us, automatically "friend" them?). I haven't used it and don't know exactly how it works, but I know I don't want it: There are plenty of people with whom I have e-mail contact whom I don't want to have as FB friends.

A big part of the problem here is _exactly_ your approach, Martin: The idea that there is some sort of sharp and self-evident divide between "information that could harm your family" and harmless information! That's ridiculous. Information is power in itself. I don't want the whole world even knowing my phone number. I certainly don't want the whole world to know the names of my children, my birthdate, my children's birthdays and ages, my children's appearance (remember--it's supposed to be one of the points of FB to share pictures of your family with far-away family members). We're not talking about some sort of obviously "harmful" girl talk that is "shared among members of the tribe." We're talking about normal personal information which, nonetheless, should not automatically be shared with people you both don't know well and have never met. Information doesn't come with some big red X on it that says, "Potentially harmful to your family."

Here's just one that might not occur to you: Imagine some FB user, Mary, whose mother passes away. Mary has several FB friends who are also her in-person friends from her home town, and one way and another, funeral details for her mother get shared on FB. This is normal interaction among these human beings. This isn't some special kind of "girl sharing." It's not something that one would immediately think of as "information that could harm Mary's family." But in this way, it so happens that Mary's maiden name gets published on FB as well as her mother's maiden name. That is, the "mother's maiden name" for Mary, and Mary's maiden name is the "mother's maiden name" for her own children. Hmmm. Where have you heard that phrase before? Oh, yeah. Your bank uses it for your password! So do many credit card companies! So do some on-line secure sites! So if just one of Mary's friends happens to be untrustworthy, a fake, or just a blabbermouth, or if Mary happened not to find all the right settings and her information is being published more widely than she realizes, this important piece of information vis a vis identity theft could be republished all over the place.

Here's another one: Suppose that Joe is a semi-public figure (known in some medium-sized circle of academic fans, etc.) and posts on FB when he is going to be traveling to some location out of town to give a talk--perhaps asking for prayers. If just one of his FB "friends" is someone who has pretended to be a fan and interested in his ministry but is actually a dangerous individual, this individual now knows when Joe will be out of town and his family left without his protection. Nor will it be hard for this person to figure out the location of Joe's home.

One could go on and on. What is needed here is that normal sense of privacy. The "My life is an open book, I don't know what's wrong with you; besides, why would anyone post anything harmful" attitude is exactly what encourages people to think that these things can't possibly be a problem.

Dr. McGrew:

No doubt there is luck or Providence involved in my meeting good people via Facebook. It was only a concession that there is some positive use to the infernal thing. However, my criticisms still stand that it erodes friendships and relationships. In fact, it creates a false sense of satisfaction. A friend of mine is deeply entrenched in the Facebook world and feels lonely and hollow when people do not like her status or interact with her in such a fashion. She uses it as cries for help. So beyond the worrying privacy policies, there is a slippery slope of resorting to quick fixes that damage the character of one's soul. Where is our patience and long-suffering? Where is the depth of our friendships and companionship where I can sob safely in a context where no one will judge me but instead mourn with me? Where is the mature strength borne from denying one's impulse from immediately telling the entire world of my pain or frustration? We are like children on this thing, having no sense of restraint or sobriety. So I whole-heartedly agree with you that Facebook has produced ills. However, I'm not sure I can completely dispatch with it either.


I understand either FB and/or Google+ is incorporating concentric circles of privacy that contacts can be placed in. Which is more true to life than the undifferentiated version we have now.

Your experience of FB is not mine, given the set up I don't place private info on FB. people I know don't either, they use FB like a fast moving blog.

I don't know twitter.

Australia is a secularist wasteland and FB is great for connecting Christians. Perhaps you've written, like the Pope, on how Christians can best use the internet and FB to fulfil the Great Commission. You've given a valid warning about privacy. What about the untapped potential of FB? For those without the resources to run a website?

People who believe that they do not personally put private information on Facebook are simply incorrect in that belief.

One very private collection of information is your rolodex - that is, your "friends list". (There was a time not long ago when his rolodex was one of the most carefully guarded secrets in every businessman's life, and for good reason.)

A great deal can be inferred about a person from his friends list, and the things which can be inferred are becoming increasingly accurate and detailed as more research is done on the "social graph". A Facebook account with no posted content at all, just a friends list so you can see the feeds of your friends, can and does reveal all sorts of personal information about you. That doesn't even consider the things your friends post with you specifically in mind.

I can't tell you how many people have said to me that they don't post private information on Facebook, and justify their participation to themselves on that basis. They are kidding themselves.

Participate if you must; but do it with your eyes fully open, with the realization that inherent to its use you are posting private information that the KGB would have mortgaged the entire Soviet Union to the evil capitalists to obtain.

It will be interesting to see, as "social graph" research and development continues, what sorts of accurate and precise inferences will become possible. For example, I expect that it will soon be possible (if it isn't already to at least some degree) to develop frighteningly accurate profiles of many people who do -not- use social media from information posted by people who -do- use social media.

I must be missing something here. There can't be anything more to learn about me from my friends list than what I actually post on my FB page. And as a question of proportion is it any more dangerous simply maintaining an unapologetically non-liberalism FB page than what these guys are doing? I hope someone tries to mine it for info: they might learn something.

South Central LA Tea Party Rally

There can't be anything more to learn about me from my friends list ...
Just saying it makes it so, eh?

A lot of people seem to agree with that gratuitous assumption; folks who know better have for the most part a vested interest in encouraging you to jump to that conclusion.

It isn't just your personal rolodex in itself, by the way: the social graph is all of the known friend connections (or other types of relationships) between human beings, including your own precise personal place in that network of relationships, stored in centralized databases subject to sophisticated algorithmic analysis.

The migration of all of this information into centralized databases through services like Facebook is an entirely new development in human history. That so many people have willingly surrendered essentially all of their privacy, while at the same time maintaining the delusion that they haven't done so, is nothing short of astounding. Orwell never predicted such a thing.

In any case, all the billions of dollars being poured into analyzing the social graph beg to differ with the gratuitous assertion that it contains no personal information about you; personal information which can and will ultimately be used in ways contrary to how you would like. This is just very early days, and already your place in the social graph alone can deduce things like political party, sexual orientation, etc -- again, from nothing but your friend connections combined with other known social graph data, even if you haven't yourself posted a single thing.

I know, I know -- "what could it hurt?" Give this a few decades to percolate into the "how were we supposed to know?" stage.

People who believe that they do not personally put private information on Facebook are simply incorrect in that belief.

Nope. I don't personally put stuff personal stuff up on FB.

Oh, wait, you mean people who actually have FB accounts? Sorry, my mistake. ;-)

While I am concerned with the privacy issues Lydia brings up here, I am also concerned with issues of how social networking affects the way we relate to one another. A couple of articles I'm having my students read from The New Atlantis are Roger Scruton's "Hiding Behind the Screen" and Christine Rosen's "Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism." (Sorry; they are available online but I don't have time to hunt up the links right now; a search with author and title will net them immediately.) I have found TNA to be a very good source for warnings about these issues.

Oh, wait, you mean people who actually have FB accounts? Sorry, my mistake. ;-)
Funny; but, in point of fact, there is plenty of information on Facebook about people who do not have Facebook accounts. See my comment above about using social media to develop inferred profiles of individuals who do not themselves use social media.

I agree that Facebook can be harmful, but I have a few disagreements with some of the statements above. (Belated, I know; I understand if no one ever reads or responds to this.)

In the case of Mary and her mother's maiden name, wasn't that sort of information regularly revealed in print obituaries long before there was Facebook? (Of course, in those days there were no online passwords either, so knowing someone's mother's maiden name was not valuable information, but that is an argument against the entire Internet culture, not simply against Facebook specifically.)

Similarly, very few people these days are dumb enough to put up their home addresses and phone numbers on Facebook, but that sort of information used to be regularly available in the phone book. (Indeed, with the abandonment of landline phones by many people, it might well be harder to find out a stranger's phone number today than it was thirty years ago. Some could opt out of the phone book in the past, but few did. In contrast, there is no printed or online cell phone directory anywhere.)

P.S. I believe the "So-and-so answered a question about you" wall messages are signs that the account of the said so-and-so has been hacked. So on the one hand, don't blame your friends, but on the other hand, such posts are not merely annoying, but actually dangerous.

In the case of Mary and her mother's maiden name, wasn't that sort of information regularly revealed in print obituaries long before there was Facebook? (Of course, in those days there were no online passwords either, so knowing someone's mother's maiden name was not valuable information, but that is an argument against the entire Internet culture, not simply against Facebook specifically.)

Sure, but print obituaries for funerals in Naperville, IL, couldn't be accessed easily from Kosovo in those days. Putting stuff on the Internet, even among your Facebook "friends" (who can be from anywhere), makes it _much_ more widely available.

Similarly, very few people these days are dumb enough to put up their home addresses and phone numbers on Facebook, but that sort of information used to be regularly available in the phone book.

Same deal. Until the Internet, you had to go to the town and look up the phone number and address in the book.

Facebook _asks_ for your location. Not necessarily your exact address, but your home town. People (for example) who blog unpopular opinions have plenty of reasons for wishing, however much in vain, that other people would be unable to find out what town they live in, which makes it much easier to locate them. You can in fact leave the "location" spot on Facebook blank, but few people know that you can. This is particularly relevant for young people and children, who may become the targets of stalkers who want to arrange meetings with them. After all, your children's names didn't used to be in the phone book!

I believe the "So-and-so answered a question about you" wall messages are signs that the account of the said so-and-so has been hacked. So on the one hand, don't blame your friends, but on the other hand, such posts are not merely annoying, but actually dangerous.

First, I believe this is incorrect and that the "answering a question about you" thing is an actual ordinary app, not an indication of hacking. But what if it were an indication of hacking? Then it would just be one more part of the spam/virus/hacking problem that is, as I mentioned in the main post, absolutely _huge_ on Facebook and puts people at greater risk of various things because they are on.

I signed up for a Facebook account recently to do some experiments. Within minutes, without having done anything at all with the account itself, I received a phishing email posing as Facebook apologizing for any troubles I was having accessing my account, and if I'd only click here they would help me.

I think it is a safe bet that some number of your "friend's" accounts are hacked and under the control of the same people who run the big SPAM botnets.

(Not to imply that Facebook itself is any more trustworthy than a SPAM botnet operator, mind you).

Oh, yes, my P.S. was a different point from my earlier points. I didn't mean to imply that "This may have been hacking" is any way a defense of Facebook!

Not to get this thread completely off track, and I accept the validity of "at least obituaries were limited to the local community" as a response, but when you think about it, the newspaper obituary is a remarkable thing - in one brief article the reader can learn the deceased's age, educational background, employment history, church membership, names of wife and children, etc. - information that (at least in the pre-Internet age) would have been difficult for any stranger or enemy to assemble on his own. Maybe this just shows how our privacy has gradually eroded and the conservatism of today is often the radicalism of yesterday.

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