I started teaching at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2005, and on the first day of class that fall, I asked the students about their favorite news sources. Several mentioned The New York Times (online, not in print), ESPN and The Daily Tar Heel.
One told me emphatically: “Facebook.” I responded that I had read about Facebook, but I wasn’t on it yet. The student’s response: “Mr. Bechtel, you have to be on Facebook!”
Of course, I am now, along with more than 400 million other users. And yes, it is one of my news sources. I use Facebook not only to keep up with what my friends are doing, but also to see what they are sharing there, especially news stories that they have seen that I have overlooked.
I recently took a Facebook hiatus. Annoyed by news about Facebook’s slippery policy on privacy and by the hacking of my account by spammers, I decided to take a break. I’d had enough.
Being away from Facebook was more difficult than I expected. I missed my friends, both old and new. I missed knowing what they were talking about. I admit that I cheated on my pledge once, to look up an e-mail address for a former student to let her know about a job opportunity.
During my week away, I realized that leaving Facebook would not improve my privacy online. Let’s face it: There is no privacy online.
For example, the content of my Gmail account is regularly mined so Google can offer advertising related to what my friends and I are talking about:
- Discussion of a recent canoe trip led to ads for kayaks.
- A friend and I had a jokey exchange about Grecian Formula, and now Gmail wants to sell me hair dye.
That’s because Google is a company interested in making money. And Facebook is not a public good; it’s a business.
I’m back on Facebook and will keep using Gmail. I like Twitter too. They’re all convenient and free.
I’ll also do what I can on Facebook (and elsewhere online) to guard my privacy. I urge you to do the same — stay connected, but stay cautious.