Viewpoint: Facebook Is Not Your Friend

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Attention, humanity: We seem to be suffering from an acute case of stupidity.

There’s a viral misconception making its way through our Twitter accounts and Facebook profiles and injecting itself into our brains. And it’s leading those infected to believe these social sites are looking out for us.

Yesterday, we wondered if Twitter should actually hand over user information to officials when it’s subpoenaed. The day before, a report that even Facebook content marked “Friends-Only” could be used against you in court sent us spiraling into rants about the company’s lack of integrity on issues of user privacy. (The horror!) Well, Facebook’s integrity isn’t on today’s discussion menu. But yours is.

There will never be an easier way to break this to you other than to just say it: Facebook is not your friend. It’s a business. Repeat this to yourself until it begins to sink deep within in your social-loving brain cells. “Facebook is not your friend. It’s a business.”

Laws on Internet activity and speech are just beginning to manifest in court, and nine times out of ten, companies will comply with authorities. (Yes, this means handing over your account’s info.) Some rulings have required Facebook to turn over user password information, other courts have thrown out similar requests. It’s all the more reason to consider what you post online fair game inside our legal system.

Of course, when I say “Facebook,” I really mean every social media site you’ve hitched to your digital identity: Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, etc. Facebook seems to take the brunt of the backlash because of its size, but that hasn’t changed our silly new idea that all of these companies have our best interests in mind. They don’t. They’re businesses. They want our personal information to dangle in front of advertisers. And no, Facebook isn’t inherently evil for not really giving a damn about you. It’s business.

The problem is that this reality doesn’t fit our modern consumer expectations, which, some would argue could be described as profound laziness. We’re living in the age of blaming companies for everything we don’t like about ourselves. Smoke too much? Blame big tobacco. Eat too much? Blame fast food. Sign up for a website that craves your personal information, then do something stupid? Surely it’s not your fault.

Last week, some media outlets called for Facebook to ban “planking,” a sillier than thou approach at tourist snapshots after a 20-year old died in Australia when he fell from a seventh-story balcony after an attempt to “plank” on the railing. He’d also been drinking.

Planking, the act of simply lying face down in public places, has become something of an Internet sensation. You’ve probably seen them: Weird vacation photos of people laying board straight in front of monuments, on bike racks, across state lines. Originally called the “lying down game,” it started in the U.K. in 2000 between friends and transferred to a Facebook group in 2007. Its popularity on the site lead to “extreme planking,” photos of dangerous planking attempts – usually in high places. Should Facebook step up and ban planking? No. Because planking won’t kill you. Bad judgement will. And our dangerous exhibitionism isn’t Facebook’s problem.

Social networking is just a digital tool. What we do with it is entirely our responsibility. We’ve got to evolve as a society at least to the point where we can all acknowledge that it’s not Facebook’s duty to assist in our legal problems. If you implicate yourself in a crime on Facebook, don’t expect the Internet to stand behind you ready to FIGHT THE MAN, man.

This isn’t a case for Facebook, or Twitter or social networks in general. It’s a case for sanity. Please, let’s find some.

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