The Death and Birth of My Facebook Profile

A word to the wise. My original, longstanding, totally legit Facebook account was disabled today because a scammer used my photos in a fake account under a different name. Facebook shut down my account for pretending to be someone I was not, even after I sent a photo of my ID through proper channels. This account, the replacement, is my new account (and also totally legit) and I am rebuilding.

As my friends know, I have a lot of time and energy invested in Facebook dating back a decade. It evaporated today and unless Facebook relents there is no way to get it back. OK, fine, that is the risk I run with a free service. The main thing I take away from this is DO NOT DEPEND ON A THIRD PARTY FOR ANYTHING CRITICAL. In this case the third party is Facebook but really this applies to anyone.

I used to strongly advise any content creators to write FIRST for their blog and then share that into social streams. Lately I have gotten away from that, posting lengthy essays as status updates and also as Medium articles. But I do not own those things and I have no control over them. They can vanish (and have).

Think, too, about all the third-party logins that we simply connect through Facebook. All of those identities and apps . . . poof. Moving forward I plan to publish primarily to my blog (which I will share into Facebook) and whenever creating a new account on a new service, I will create a new login instead of simply connecting through Facebook or Twitter (unless the system forces me to do so).

FYI, the offending account (the scammer) can be found here.

Fail: Back to Square One With Facebook

Yesterday I posted a brief message on Facebook. “Strongly considering deleting all social media apps in order to limit distracting use. Thoughts?” This generated some conversation and I thought I would update my friends. As I began to write a new post, it became lengthy so I thought I would put it here.

Firstly, I realize that my original note was a little unclear. I am not considering deleting my Facebook account entirely. I tried that once. It lasted a week. The connections I have and can maintain through Facebook are too important to me to abandon — and I found that they do not simply continue through other means. There is something that Facebook adds to my life that does not come from other things. Something important: wide-ranging social connection.

Secondly, the above paragraph makes something else clear that I had not meant to be vague about. I am talking about Facebook here. I don’t really struggle with other social media platforms. Twitter, Instagram, and  LinkedIn are not the same kinds of sirens that Facebook is. I know others differ but for me that’s the case.

But I do struggle with not letting Facebook use overtake other productive pursuits and push them out. Note that I am counting Facebook as a productive thing for me to be doing. Yes I waste time on it, but overall it is a value-add. I just need to find a good way to keep it in perspective.

So, to be clear, my thought was that if I delete the app from my phone, and only use Facebook on a computer, then this might help me keep my online work in balance. However, there was something about that solution that seemed unsatisfactory to me, which was why I was merely “considering” it and didn’t just do it.

In the first place, if my worry is that I may be pushing out productive pursuits, for instance writing, research, and other business correspondence — why would I require that the machine I use for Facebook be the same one I use for those other things? It’s kind of bonkers when you look at it like that. In the second place, using Facebook on my phone is precisely the use case that makes the most sense if what I value in the network is easy, friction-free and wide-ranging light connections with people. I can dip in and out in odd moments, when I have some spare attention, wherever that happens to be. That’s actually one would imagine one should use Facebook.

downloadIn the conversation that followed my note, a potential halfway-measure arose: turning off all notifications for the Facebook app. (I use iOS so this would be in Settings=>Notifications and I would just disable all notifications.) This way, the app would be available to me on my phone, but every time I look at the screen I would not be greeted by some little red number (a “badge”) inviting me to open the app and mess around with it. I would have to make a decision to open the app and check it to see what had happened since I last had looked.

I tried this yesterday. For about a third of the day, this seemed to be working well. I checked the app occasionally, but not incessantly. And then I got distracted by other activities and I forgot about Facebook entirely for most of the rest of the day. And then, later at night, I opened up the app.

And that was when the problem became apparent. I had something like 20 notifications of people interacting with various things I had posted. I do not feel that I need to see, read, or even know about every post that every friend of mine makes, but I do feel it is inconsiderate not to read what they comment when it is on something that I myself originally posted. So I feel duty bound to look at all of these notifications, at least enough to feel I know what they are. Even when the notification is as innocuous as “Joe liked your post,” I feel like I ought to know which post. That’s what friends do, right? Pay attention to one another when interacting?

Some time ago I became an Inbox Zero person. I keep nothing in my email Inbox. Everything has been processed and either archived, noted for later action, or dealt with. What I learned about that is that the very best way to stay on top of your email inbox is to deal with it constantly and immediately. This is contrary to some productivity hackers who say just check email once per day or whatever. I find that when I do that, I am greeted with 100+ emails at once that I have to slog through. But, if I constantly handle email throughout the day, the energy expenditure is minimal. Random emails from random people? Scan enough to know it’s unimportant, and delete. Informational cc: lines? Scan and archive. Notes from my boss? Look at what is needed, figure out what I need to do, dash off a “got it” response, write down the to-do, archive. I find that it is easy and beneficial to handle all these tasks in the moment, rather than batched. In fact, doing all that in a batched way is a nightmare and results in Inbox 100+ instead of Inbox Zero — at least, that is my experience.

The same with Facebook. Yesterday’s experiment made me realize that it is useful and actually easier for me to just deal with Facebook a bit at a time, as and when notifications come in. I make them unobtrusive (so I do not have any alerts or banners, and certainly no sounds, on my app — just little badges) and they serve as reminders.

So I am back to Square One with my Facebook app. I’ve turned on my notifications again.

Which means I still have my original problem: balance among my online pusuits. But at least I now know of two potential solutions that don’t work, at least not for me.

Engaged, Not Engaged?

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College Fair

The other evening, my wife and I accompanied our daughter to a college fair. She’s a junior, and this is an important part of the college selection process. Over one hundred colleges all came to display their wares, with many hundreds of high school students on hand to try to make their connections and winnow down their choice (or make themselves stand out in the minds of the admissions officers of their chosen schools).

It was a packed affair. My wife and I decided that our best course would be to let our daughter use the time on her own, and not try to guide, prod, or speak for her in any way. So, we each cruised the event on our own, developed our own impressions, and then the two of us reconnoitered in the bleachers to wait while our daughter finished her work. Her part took longer, because she had to interact with a number of people. We told her to take her time. We were fine.

And, in fact, we were. Many parents were sitting around us, occupied with their own activities. As were we. Both of us found the even fascinating in its own way. My wife, Andrea Jarrell, is a consultant to colleges and universities, and found it interesting to see how her work (viewbooks and branding for places such as Lafayette University, Swarthmore, and Columbia) was used and to be on the “consumer” side of the desk. As for me, I am fascinated by crowds and like to people watch, discerning patterns in their behavior.

Naturally interested in sharing our experiences, we each pulled out our smartphones and went to Facebook. Andrea had posted a photo along with a comment about how interesting she found the experience. I weighed in. Other mutual friends were commenting, and we were each enjoying refreshing our screens, updating our statuses, joking with one another, and sharing our observations.

It was an interesting feeling of being at the same time engaged with an event in real life, and sharing it on social media . . . all at the same time that we were sharing the experience of being there together. We were engrossed, living in three or four worlds simultaneously.

Then, our reveries and interactions were interrupted. The admissions officer from a school whose table happened to be right near us had been watching our behavior, and he’d sauntered over. “I have never seen a couple more . . . ”

. . . As he began his sentence, I filled in the blank for him mentally. “Engaged.” “Proud.” “Interested.” What was he about to say?

“. . . disinterested than you two,” he finished.

I was taken aback. We were, in fact, the opposite of that. If you could be “in flow” sitting on the bleachers at a college fair, we were there. Yet, I could see how it might appear that we were bored out of our skulls. I thought of it from his perspective. There we were, sitting together, staring into our phones, tapping away. We would look around blankly for a while, then back into our phones and tap away. Once in a while we might say something to one another, but we did this sporadically and briefly. Mostly, from his perspective, we were just sitting there.

We disabused our new friend of his misperception, and explained how interested we, in fact, were. We spoke for a while. Turns out the admissions officer has two children, one a senior in high school, and he has been interested in his own experience of the admissions process from the other side of the desk. We shared about this for a while, and then he went back to work.

As he walked away, I thought about our exchange, and how appearances can be quite deceiving, especially when you mix them with stereotypes. Because we looked like the prototypical bored and disinterested  parents, our new friend assumed that was what we were.

I’ll have to remember that, next time I assume someone is not paying attention because they are staring into their smartphone. Maybe, in fact, they are more engaged than ever.

 

Our Duty In The Brave New Panopticon

I have always been fascinated with the Panopticon. It figured in an essay I wrote about leadership some time ago, but my interest in it goes way back. As social media, and especially Facebook, has grown and evolved over the past handful of years, I keep thinking it is time to revisit the panopticon. With the recent changes now rolling out across the Facebook landscape, which include “passive sharing,” now seems the time.

The Panopticon was a unique prison design, rooted in moral philosophy. Here is my description of it from my 2004 essay:

In 1787, one of the great thinkers of English history, Jeremy Bentham, proposed a new design for a prison. He called the design the Panopticon. The idea was simple: from one point in the center of the building, a single guard could see any inmate at any time. All of the inmates knew this, but could not tell when, or whether, they were being observed. The concept was intended to promote the moral development of the prisoners, as the constant possibility of scrutiny would serve to make them less likely to behave badly. The Panopticon was a leap forward in its day. Designed to replace the infamous Botany Bay, it was among the first prisons to incorporate the idea of rehabilitation rather than punishment. Instead of being seen as beasts, prisoners were now assumed to be able to regulate their own behavior. Bentham’s design would have provided the motivation for them to do so.

Today, we live in the Panopticon. Our every move is visible. Facebook’s recent shift to an Open Graph (where my actions on outside web sites can be recorded and posted to my stream in real time) is one fresh example, but the truth is that we live in the Panopticon every day everywhere. In a world where everything can be shared, everything is shared.

We used to imagine we had a zone of privacy brought about by anonymity when we were in the public, but no more. If I do something boneheaded in a public place, it is quite likely that someone is filming me and will upload it to YouTube, or Tweet about it.

The typical response to this observation is that living in the Panopticon is a bad thing. Where is the privacy?

But I am not so sure. There is a strong up side to the Panopticon. That’s its allure. Certainly, when police officers are overstepping their bounds and harassing people, we can be thankful that footage of their misdeeds pops up and gets shared. When political office holders think sending photos of their junk to people is a reasonable means of courtship, we can be glad that inadvertently slips of the keyboard get such idiocy out in the open.

There is also a mighty downside to the Panopticon. Whistleblowers need and deserve anonymity. Victims of violence need and deserve anonymity. Dissenters need and deserve anonymity. Yet the Panopticon works against anonymity, exposing all.

The point of the Panopticon is not that everything I do is being watched — it is that everything I do might be watched. The theory then goes that I will therefore act accordingly. The downside of this is that it chills otherwise free speech and behavior. The up side is that I supposedly will moderate my baser desires.

However, this theory is disproved every day. No one can reasonably believe that they can truly find a zone of privacy to shield bad behavior. But day after day, people act as if the Panopticon did not exist. They persist in the magical thinking that just becuase I do not see anyone watching me, that no one is.

But today, someone always is.

I believe it is too late to roll back the changes in society that have led to the Panopticon. Visibility is too ingrained across almost every activity. We can stem the tide, but we can’t stop it.

Eventually, we will collectively come to grips with the Panopticon. I am hopeful that the result will be greater tolerance.

Ten years ago, collegiate use of “soft” drugs like marijuana could still derail a political career. Now, not so much. Five years ago, you would see a regular drumbeat of articles admonishing college kids to scrub their Facebook profiles to make sure they don’t have any photos of themselves at parties. Now, you don’t see so many such articles, because hiring managers are beginning to accept the notion that people don’t always behave the way one would wish.

While I am hopeful about the outcome, the road there may be rocky. We have some years ahead of us where things may be ugly. We will see behaviors that used to be hidden. We will over-react and — in some cases — under-react. The marginal will continue to be persecuted. We will have intolerance and lynch mobs (figurative and literal). This saddens me, but I believe it is likely.

Eventually, I hope we can as individuals reach a collective conclusion about the Panopticon. If I live in the Panopticon, I have a double moral duty: On the one hand, I must moderate my behavior and do right as often as I can; on the other hand, I must exercise tolerance because I know that the harsh glare of judgment I shine on others could easily be shone on me.

We all live in the Panopticon. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Photo: Klearchos Kapoutsis (Flickr)

Five Rules To Live In Public

For some reason (an intersection between tech-geek tendencies and narcissism, no doubt), I have been an early adopter when it comes to the self-publishing elements enabled by the Web. I started blogging before the word had been coined, was an early adopter of Twitter (March 2007), Facebook, and more. The advent of the Social Web has been particularly interesting to me. I already had been “public” about my day-to-day life, writing a number of essays for publication on various aspects. But the Social Web (especially Facebook) amped things up and — as it has for many of us — forced the question: How do you present a face that is at once authentic, personal, and professional?

In other words: How do you live in public?

Recent changes announced by Facebook (“top news,” the “ticker,” “timelines”) have people quite worried about their privacy. People are worried about how they will live in public. One of the effects of the new Facebook interface is that more of what we do online is easily accessible (it was always visible, but we could pretend it wasn’t there because it was a bit buried.) Some are threatening to quit Facebook, but with 800 million users it is likely that as many people will quit as actually followed through with their threats to move to Canada if their favored presidential candidate did not win.

No, people will have to come to grips with living in public.

Over the past few years, based on trial and error, I have developed a simple set of rules that help. They are common sense, but they may be useful to you:

  1. Never assume something on a social network is truly “private.”This is the cardinal rule. Many social network services provide privacy controls. Use them, for sure, but assume they will fail. A policy change may invalidate them, the company may get purchased and the new owner will have no obligation to uphold previous privacy deals, or — most likely — you will make a mistake and make something public that you thought would be private.

    It’s like the advice communications professionals give to people when talking to reporters: Never go “off the record.” Sure, maybe you can trust the journalist you are interviewing with, but once something is in his or her notebook (or even just in their head), they might make a mistake later and forget what aspect was private.

    So, what do you do if you simply must (for creative or personal reasons) publish anonymously. It is simple: build an alternate identity and only use that identity in ways that do not connect with your current social networks. (It is easy. First, install a new Web browser that will be your “anonymous only” browser. For instance, if you use Chrome, install Firefox. Using the anonymous-only browser, set up a new email with Gmail. Use that email and the new browser to subscribe to a standalone blogging service that you do not currently use, whether it be Posterous, Tumblr, WordPress, or Blogger. Blog to your heart’s content under your alias. Never, ever interact with your anonymous material using your usual browser.)

  2. Get comfortable with your work colleagues knowing you have a life outside of the office.Once you have come to grips with the idea that “privacy” online is an illusion, everything else flows from that. Assume you are always in public. This will drive you insane unless you get over the anxiety. For many people, this anxiety centers around work colleagues. People will think less of me professionally if they see me in nonprofessional settings, people think.

    But, think about it. Do you respect your colleagues (or boss) less, after you see a photo of them bowling? I didn’t think so. Same goes for you. Unless you live a double life (in which case this blog post will not help you), it is important to accept that your work persona will coincide more with your non-work persona.

    This has been happening inexorably in the professional world for years. Yes, social networks have helped it along but it is a trend that goes beyond the computer screen. Some may dislike that you can no longer say, “It’s the weekend. No one needs to know what I do.” However, it is difficult to avoid the fact that this is true.

    What this means in practice is that you will need to get comfortable with the idea that photos of your yoga class may be visible by colleagues. (Don’t like that? See Rule 1).

  3. Choose “iconic” connections and use them as tests.The best way I have found to live with this, and to stay out of trouble, is to create icons. I have three such icons. One is a very straitlaced colleague, one is an older family member, and one is a close friend. It helps if they are Facebook friends.

    Whenever I post something, I do a gut check: What if my icons see it? If I have a problem with that, I do not post. (See Rule 1.)

    This may sound bogus, but it is truly a filter I use. I include emails in this. If I am typing it on my screen, I review it for whether it passes the icon test. I have written and then deleted many, many emails, status updates, blog posts, and chats.

  4. Learn how your sharing works on each network. Review privacy settings regularly. Monitor yourself. It is critical to really understand what you are sharing. Yes, Facebook makes changes (as do other social sharing networks). You must take the time to understand how it works. This may take longer than you wish it would — but it does not take as long as you fear it might. Take five minutes and understand the tools you use.

    Every week or two, you should review your privacy settings. This takes sixty seconds. (On Facebook, go to “Home,” and click the little down arrow in the upper right. Choose “Privacy settings.” It’s all there.)

    Most important, periodically monitor yourself. Facebook allows you to see your profile as others see it. Go to your profile (click your own name) and choose “View as…” on the upper right. Now, type in the name of one of your icons from Rule 3.

    What do you do if you see something you would rather not have available, even after all that care you’ve taken? Simple. See below, Rule 5.

  5. Do not hesitate to delete past information.This last rule is a little controversial. There is an ethos among social network users that once something is published, it should stay published. I completely disagree with that.

    What exists on your profile is a snapshot of you — make sure it is flattering. Delete with impunity.

    There are exceptions to this, but they are up to you. For instance, I am a co-founder of a blog (now a Facebook page) called Rockville Central. It is quasi-journalistic, so we do not delete or alter previous posts except in extreme cases of abuse or profanity. That is part of the deal on that site.

    In general, though, for my own individual accounts, I maintain and curate them so they represent me putting my best foot forward.

How about you? How do you live in public? Do you have a favorite tip?
Share it in the comments!