A continuation to my recent post on Facebook: there’s a new MZ post on the FB blog, Making Control Simple (there’s also been a fair amount of publicity and other discussion, such as “Facebook reveals ‘simplified’ privacy changes,” BBC News today). While the granular controls remain (in all their subtlety), defaults are changing, and there’s a new item, when one first logs in, showing what information is visible publicly. This is important: underlining the distinction between FB-public and WWW-public, between inside the community and the outside world.
Now, I have this unfortunate habit of over-analysing everything. Putting that in a positive light: I read pretty much everything that crosses my path, and taking Barthes’s approach to what counts as readable text; treating all text democratically, regardless of form, medium, register, content, perceived importance, or other qualities; and I read closely. Usually starting with a rough rapid scan, followed by a click of “hang on a moment,” and then close-reading proper to see what triggered that click. The close-reading starts with grammar, and usually ends with it too–through the applications and implications of “higher-order” linguistic structures and stylistic and rhetorical use and abuse –as the click tends to be on a more or less nitty-gritty grammatical point. It’s not a matter of my being paranoid: it’s the hard fact of the matter that grammar is important.
The first thing to strike this reader, especially in the first section above (in bigger letters, etc.) is a move to heavy emphasis on “you” (as contrasted with its use in FB blog posts discussed on my previous post-essay); now accompanied by lots of “control” (as well as “power, decide, manage, choose”) in counterbalance with “share.” Indeed, “you” is the dominant pronoun throughout the rest of the text, in terms of number of iterations, proportional share of the pronoun population, and kind of activity. All that the much-reduced “we” does is to “offer” (twice), “help,” not share information with third parties (twice), be committed to protecting (not: not simply and directly “protect”) minors, and one other item that’s slightly sneaky.
It’s all very nice and good until you sniff out that last and different sort of “we.” Up to that point (and that rereading), the immediate effect is “we” rolling over onto their back and waving their paws in the air. “We” isn’t super-sneaky, but sneaky enough. Aside from lots of “you” doing its jolly empowered thing, the text’s other stylistic characteristic is the use of passive and predicate structures in more sophisticated sentences for everything that’s done by non-personal entities: architecture (section, settings), operations (clicking a certain button), content. Information is non-living and acts accordingly. But FB-the-thing is as one with FB-the-people-running-it: “our recommended settings,” “our privacy controls give you” (a rare active-voice and active-sense verb in the text), subordinate clauses of “so we can display…” attached predicatively to information, and that key verb “help” making only one other appearance, attached to the visibility of information. Key as there are so few directly grammatically and semantically active verbs attached to “we” that their deployment elsewhere acquires greater prominence. FB-the-people-running-it has adopted two personae: the clear “we” and the disguise within non-personal information; the latter affords room for manoeuvre, manipulation, and subtlety as to true intention. Worse still, it’s a mechanical non-sentient entity by definition incapable of those very things that characterise “you”–“control, power, decide, manage, choose”–so there’s the potential to act irresponsibly, unanswerably, autocratically, unethically. Exacerbating the usual business of any impersonal System. Iron fists in velvet gloves lie beneath the semblance of clipped claws.
My previous conclusions stand:
Being on FB and being there actively, pro-actively, and interactively is neither a rule nor a right: Given the implications of social networking (and bookmarking) it’s an ethical, political, and aesthetic responsibility. The 3.0 semantic web is upon us: a hive or a cloud? Virtual life under centralised authority or in an online community? Apocalyptic dystopia or anarchist utopia? Obrienatrix being ridiculously hyperbolic or just Being Prepared? Make FB your own.
Any such instance of the broader importance of attention as an ethical, political, and aesthetic Good should be, ahem, attended to. And good old-fashioned engagement and responsibility: the responsibility of all concerned. These are dangerous times for fragile new sorts of anarcho-collectivism; it would be so easy for it to fall into a controlled system. To paraphrase the wise words of Genius in an analogous situation, his sermon exhorting the Army of Lovers: these are your tools–use them or lose them.
From Digg: with apologies to its rival and to Jean de Meun.
The image above was one of the more interesting results of a Google search for “medieval face book.” Other results led me to the contemplation of other sorts of “medieval face book” writ large, such as the St Ursula shrine, and indeed its entire surrounding Basilica (Cologne):