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Boy. Facebook is taking a lot of heat for its newest batch of “improvements” as it seeks to solidify its supremacy over the social Web, and provide users with “instant personalization” of websites that they frequent. In short, Facebook wants to give your data to websites like Yelp.com or CNN and in turn provide you stories based on what it “knows” about you. In other words:
Instant personalization means that if you show up to the Internet radio site Pandora for the first time, it will now be able to look directly at your Facebook profile and use public information — name, profile picture, gender and connections, plus anything else you’ve made public — to give you a personalized experience.
It is funny how things can turn so quickly. Just recently, Facebook was an unstoppable force, amassing users and generating some flak, but not enough to slow its enormous growth and image in the public mind. Though we have yet to see if the recent dust-up will be enough to slow Facebook’s growth, it certainly seems to be darkening the image of Facebook, at least in the mind of the Web community.
Take this recent piece on “10 reasons why you should delete your Facebook account” that frames Facebook as the big, bad wolf, but also as somewhat of an imposter, pretending to be bigger and more imposing than they actually are:
Facebook is clearly determined to add every feature of every competing social network in an attempt to take over the Web (this is a never-ending quest that goes back to AOL and those damn CDs that were practically falling out of the sky). While Twitter isn’t the most usable thing in the world, at least they’ve tried to stay focused and aren’t trying to be everything to everyone.
I often hear people talking about Facebook as though they were some sort of monopoly or public trust. Well, they aren’t. They owe us nothing. They can do whatever they want, within the bounds of the laws. (And keep in mind, even those criteria are pretty murky when it comes to social networking.) But that doesn’t mean we have to actually put up with them. Furthermore, their long-term success is by no means guaranteed… the fact remains that Sergei Brin or Bill Gates or Warren Buffett could personally acquire a majority stake in Facebook without even straining their bank account.
Or this one entitled “Facebook is dying – Social is not“:
On top of the complexity and inconsistencies, we have a growing problem of privacy issues. Facebook has a long track record of ignoring people’s privacy. As I wrote in “The First Rule of Privacy”; You are the only one, who can decide what you want to share. Facebook cannot decide that, nor can anyone else.
But, Facebook seems oblivious to this simple principle, and have started sharing personal information with 3rd party “partners” – continuing a long line of really bad decisions when it comes to privacy.
I’m not sure yet what to make of all the huffing and puffing over this latest “privacy scare.” They are certainly sharing more and more of our profile data by default at a rapidly increasing rate. But lest we forget Facebook Beacon, it’s not like this sort of privacy rabble-rousing hasn’t happened before. But back then, there was the (justifiable) sense that Facebook may respect their users, and Facebook did ultimately end up rescinding Beacon’s power (opting instead for what became Facebook Connect). Perhaps what’s different this time is Facebook doesn’t seem to care.
There is no doubt that social media is changing the way we communicate with one another, at work, at home and on the road. It is also changing our information practices and behaviors. I just finished collaborating with two librarians on a paper about a social media topic for libraries–social cataloging–that was drafted on a wiki (an early draft of which is here). I bookmark sites I find interesting or want to revisit with delicious frequently, and occasionally with vigor. Twitter has changed the way people communicate with their friends, and their colleagues (pdf). Google Wave is threatening to overthrow email as we know it, and has potential to even seep into other lines of professional work as complex as clinical practice. Many get our news from @ccnbrk or @guardiannews or @nytimes.
Why is it then that so few institutions have drafted acceptable use policies for their employees or students? We have heard the stories of tweets gone wrong, from jurors tweeting from the courtroom, to students threatening one another, to employers denying interviewees an opportunity because of some raunchy pictures on facebook.
Of course no amount of policy or rule drafting is going to solve everyone’s problems, nor can it control individual users determined to overshare, act out, or blow the whistle, and should not be written to stifle social media use. In the sports world, policy documents have come into place from the NFL and NBA that focus largely on banning certain behavior, instead of encouraging appropriate use. This is reactive policy, seemingly drafted in response to inappropriate social media behavior, and highlights the need for policies and procedures to be in place before something truly harmful happens. What policies can and should establish is a set of positive and encouraging guidelines on how to use social media to the maximum benefits for oneself and for the institution(s) with which one is are associated.
Again, encouraging policy and appropriate use can’t and won’t control users at the individual level, but at least it establishes examples of appropriate use that can help illuminate appropriate and positive social media use (especially for those users unfamiliar with the concept of social media to begin with), and also provides a fallback for an institution that finds themselves in a sticky situation with someone who is, for example, facebooking nasty things about their boss. Right now, it is possible to argue “Where does it say I can’t call my boss a wanker online?” That is, of course, common sense to you and me, but not everyone is as rational and smart as us, you see.
Libraries are in the same boat. We have users and staff and librarians and faculty and students all out there in the wide world of the web, with hardly anything but Elyssa Kroski’s recent School Library Journal article on social media policy. In it, she cites seven existing library policies. Seven. And from libraries that I’ve hardly heard of. There has been enough discussion of Library 2.0 in the literature for it to now be on the radar that best practices and appropriate use need to be at the forefront of any library’s online initiatives. So much of the hard work and stumbling blocks of social media use have been codified already, it is time to move on and write the page on how to make your library’s social media presence clear and unified.