February 10, 2012

I recently joined this cool new social-networking site called “Facebook” because my publishers told me I had to use it to promote my book. I was reluctant to join because every time I checked my wife’s page, it showed some person she barely knows telling the world he favorited a YouTube video. So what?

Now, I had never opposed Facebook out of some misguided moralfag outrage; I just thought it seemed “mind-numbingly dull,” as writer Matt Labash put it. But after trying it for a few days, I see it’s like everything else on the Internet—as useful as you want it to be. Most of the criticism surrounding the site now seems like a combination of entitlement, self-obsession, and technophobia.

After telling a fellow Facebookophobe I had caved, he became incensed and sent me an article by proud Luddite Tom Hodgkinson entitled “Log off!” We are both fans of Hodgkinson. His books How to Be Free and The Freedom Manifesto are required reading for anyone who leans more to the anarchy side of libertarianism. However, as I was reading Tom’s article I thought, “Fuck this guy.” He is so anti-consumerism he’s actually anti-capitalism, and as far as I’m concerned that’s anti-freedom. Even if it was a joke, his article went over like a Ludd balloon.

“Big Brother isn’t Big Brother if he can’t punish us for not obeying him.”

Hodgkinson uses the adjectives “terrifying” and “sinister” to describe Facebook’s plan to monetize their user’s announcements with programs such as Sponsored Stories. But what are they doing that’s so evil? They’re not selling pictures of your kids to pedophiles. They’re not even touching your private data. All they’re doing is allowing sponsors to put a logo and a link next to a post that mentions their product. What’s the matter with that?

Business Week’s Ben Kunz says he thinks they should go even further and sell all the data, and I’m inclined to agree. The users willingly put info on Facebook’s site for free and someone wants to turn that garbage into a profit? It’s like making money out of thin air. Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt refused Kunz’s advice and told him, “people share so freely on Facebook, in part, because they trust that we’re not going to sell their information. We don’t have any interest in violating that trust.”

Despite Facebook’s refusal to sell information, users are still outraged at Sponsored Stories. Politicians are piggybacking the outrage. How audacious. This has nothing to do with the government. Facebook costs nothing, and I’m not forced to post anything on there. If I thought a picture of myself in high school was some kind of precious commodity worth millions, I wouldn’t share it. If my favorite Jamaican restaurant wants to put up a link after I tell my friends I had a delicious meal there, that’s irie with me. The only time I get sanctimonious about my privacy is when the government is involved. Businesses want my money and if they don’t get it, they say, “Geez, he’s not interested. I must be doing something wrong.”

The government, on the other hand, demands about half my salary, couldn’t care less what I think about it, and if I don’t pay them, I go to jail. Hodgkinson doesn’t see the difference and describes Facebook as “Orwellian.” Big Brother isn’t Big Brother if he can’t punish us for not obeying him. Facebook is only trying to generate revenue. Why does that bother Tom so much? Is he jealous?


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