CMD-T, F, A, Enter
Published on Medium, too.
I’ve been locked out of Facebook for a couple of days. Here’s what I think.
Two days ago, looking for a quick minute of distraction and connection, I keyed CMD-T,F,A,Enter and hopped onto Facebook. Or at least expected to.
Instead, I was greeted by a plain page. “For security reasons, your account is temporarily locked.”
First thought: Sh*t, I’ve been hacked. I called my girlfriend and had her check my page to see what sort of pharmacy prescriptions I was selling. Nothing; my account wasn’t available to view, either. Weird.
Back to Facebook, and click the blue button as trained. And voila:
(No clip art!)
Wait, what? They want my government ID? My first inclination was to tell them to go fuck themselves, which I did. Not because I’m paranoid or particularly worried about the industrial-NSA complex at the moment (thanks, Ed!), but because I’m a bit contrarian and crotchety and what the f$*? do you want with my ID anyway? Creeps.
But being locked out of Facebook was inconvenient, and I really didn’t want my friends buying placebos, and being principled about Facebook of all things seemed silly. So I caved and uploaded a picture of my CA driver’s license.
AND THEN: nothing. I’m still locked out, and haven’t heard a word from them (not even on Twitter!). But I’ve had a couple minutes to think about it.
A question of Identity
"If this account reflects your real name and personal information, please help us verify it." I hadn’t really read the secondary text on that first lock screen (because the internet, and button).
Ok. Ok. First: FUCK YOU!!! AGAIN! Seriously. Why don’t you go ask my 500 or 1000 friends if I’m me? (I don’t know exactly how many friends I have right now, because Facebook still won’t tell me)
[This actually isn’t hard. Their spam + fraud teams have to be more sophisticated than this; just look at my activity writing on friends’ walls, theirs on mine, and our mutual responses. Pretty standard network analysis.]
And they’re MY friends anyway, not yours. Who the fookin fook do you think you are???
Look, I know I’m late to the debates on privacy and identity on Facebook. Mostly because I’m pretty normal about it, I think. I’m not partisan. I don’t hate Facebook. I don’t really like that it’s closed and sorta hope it goes the way of AOL, but my friends and family are on there and I like them.
But there’s this thing that I can’t help noticing, because my nose is being rubbed in it. Facebook won’t let me connect with my Facebook friends and family, and that’s pretty much all my friends and family (because the internet and Facebook). And it won’t let me see all of my stuff on Facebook, either; thousands and thousands of aggregate hours of storytelling and connection.
And so what’s clear — and I know some of you are already thinking duh, but still — is this: Facebook controls my friend graph, and so somehow they’re not really my friends. And Facebook controls all my pictures and words on there, and so it’s not really my stuff. And Facebook is like a really big company. And they won’t let me talk to my friends or family or have my stuff right now. And there’s nothing I can do about it. (Actually, I might head over to the Mission and wait for a Facebook Bus to unload and then punch the biggest one I can find. But probably not. Maybe.)
And I think most of us know this stuff in the back of our minds, but there’s knowing and then there’s knowing. Like you know that soap’s gonna taste bad, until you know.
And once you have to confront it, there’s this other thing that becomes more clear: this whole setup probably isn’t a great idea.
My social graph — my social life, in many ways — is owned and operated, and not by me. Facebook has become a de facto utility for a billion people, but one that we have no recourse against when they act against our interest (other than that whole Mission side trip).
This isn’t some cry for revolution (whiny or otherwise). It’s an observation — a perspective — that this massive emergent system seems fundamentally unstable, untenable, undesirable.
This definitely isn’t a call to arms to design and build the almighty OPEN SOURCE SOCIAL NETWORK OMG. Because that never works. Like this guy John Gall put it:
A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.
So anyway, my point isn’t that Facebook is evil. It’s not, I’m mostly sure. But I’m also pretty sure that the fundamental contract, the evolved structure of the system, isn’t durable or resilient enough to handle the long run. Its need for control is at odds with the curve of things.
And that’s sort of a nice thought, because we can do better. I have some ideas for how that starts, but that’s another story.