3 Reasons Why Using Facebook Is Like Smoking

Think I'm being a bit harsh?  About the only thing harsh about this post is the poor Photoshop job (or actually Paint.Net – since when did “Photoshop” become a verb exactly?) I did on the image below.  (Keep in mind, I'm an engineer and programmer in my core – and as the stereotype would suggest, I would challenge anyone in front of a whiteboard, but graphic design? Not my cup of tea.) 
But I digress – back to why Facebook is like smoking cigarettes.  I concur that the analogy is not equivalent in terms of severity – the physical, emotional and life changing trauma that resulted from the tobbaco industry's tactics in the middle of the 20th century, and whose effects persist to this day I would not think of drawing explicit comparisons to.  What is similar however, is the dramatic impact it is having on our society, the effects and consequences the vast majority of Facebook's 500 Million users simply do not understand.  Similar to tobacco and cigarettes, the negative impact is so disconnected and distant from the act of using the service, that it's easy to see why Facebook growth rates continue to grow even though there is so much controversy and negative media coverage.  So without further ado, here are my 3 reasons why using Facebook is like smoking: 
1.  Facebook Is A Life Style Choice And Makes Living Better
Back in the 30's and 40's, the tobacco industry engaged the public with campaigns that emphasized the enrichment of life associated with their product.  Campaigns such as “They Satisfy” and movies and ads glamorized cigarettes and the public bought it.  Similarly, since Facebook's inception back in 2006, Facebook has been all about connecting with your friends, and only your friends.  As privacy has become less and less of a focus for Facebook, the story changes to talk about how Facebook is all about sharing, and that we should all try to be as public as we can.  After all, if we are doing nothing wrong what do we have to hide? Similar the tobacco industry when faced with concerns about the negative effects of smoking came back with advertising slogans like “Not a Cough in a Carload”.  The makers of Kools even claimed their brand would keep a person's head clear and protect against colds.  Ridiculous? Well consider Zuckerberg's statement back in January when he stated “The Age Of Privacy Is Over“.  As Jason Calacanis, CEO of Maholo put so well – “We've Been Zucked!”.   Just like the Tobacco Industry was known to be dishonest and untrustworthy, so has Mark Zuckerman, and by extension Facebook.
2.  How Others Use Facebook, Like Second Hand Smoke, May Be The Silent Killer
The prevailing thought used to be that if “I Didn't Smoke, I Was OK”.  Despite growing concerns about the effects of second hand smoke, it is well known now that the Tobacco Industry lied about the effects of Second Hand Smoke. Similarly on Facebook, much coverage has been made about how applications and games such as the virally popular Farmville can gain access to your data even if not played by yourself, but by your friends. In What Facebook Quizzes Know About You, ReadWriteWeb late last year covered how serious the issue was with applications on Facebook.  In fact, just last month at Facebook's F8 Conference,  Zuckerberg announced that Facebook will be removing restrictions on the amount of time a Facebook application can keep your data.  The previous policy limited application developers to a 24 hour period where data could be stored before purging. Applications aside, how many people have been surprised with a message on Facebook that claims they have been tagged in a photo.  Though true that you can “untag” yourself, your name can still be associated with the photo when untagged.  Also the fact that you can be tagged at all without explicitly providing permission is an issue in itself.  
3.  Negative Consequences Of Use Are Far Removed From The Experience 
The problem with that argument is that it won't be until several years from now that we will fully understand the impact of so much of our, previously private lives, being public on the web.  For the younger generation today, that could spell big trouble for everything from prospective employers perception of them as an applicant to insurance companies using your “online fingerprint” when underwriting you or deciding on how to deal with a claim being made.  It's easy to say it is safe when the potential negative effects are so far removed from the experience or act itself.  This was the same situation with cigarettes and the controversy around second hand smoke.  Tobacco companies have funded dozens of studies on the link between secondhand smoke and heart disease – but when scientists found a connection, the industry skewed their conclusions or stopped funding them.  Mark Zuckerberg wants to take Facebook to the next level – as recently announced at F8 and which you can listen to in the keynote below – in fact, against the backdrop of the mantra “sharing is good, make everything public, privacy is dead”, Facebook is looking to socialize and organize the web.  Zuckerberg's vision sees a web that is connected back to Facebook – by making available a number of hooks into the Facebook API (oh, and by the way, YOUR PROFILE), forget applications, but web sites now will be able to access your data.  Of course you'll need to “connect” with them first, but once you've done that….you've again been Zuckered.  A social graph connected web (i.e. Facebook Connect) is very valuable, in particular from a search and advertising perspective.  One of the reasons why Google has the same idea with it's Google Friend Connect solution.  


Watch live streaming video from f8conference at livestream.com
Every time you hear the phrase “we want to lower the friction of sharing” basically what they are telling you is we want to make it so easy to share, that you will even forget that your sharing.  Let's walk through what this means.  So I log into CNN and one day I decide to “connect” to my facebook account.  Every time I visit CNN now, CNN will know who I am, not because of a Cookie, but because they know who I am on Facebook.  Every article I read, every link I click on, CNN will know. Some time later, someone I am friends with on Facebook visits the CNN web site.  My name suddenly pops up telling them that I might have read a particular article, or “liked” something.  Sounds cool? Even useful? Absolutely.  There are many use cases, in particular for businesses to easily make their site “socially aware” – for free!  But what if you don't want your friends to know what web sites you visit? Or what movies you have rented or watched? But don't worry – being public is good. 
 So will I stop using Facebook? No. I'm not suggesting Facebook doesn't add value – it does for me and I use it.  If I thought I'd get as much press as Leo Laporte or Jason Calacanis  have received for deciding to cancel their account, I might consider it. {Grin!}  But what I am suggesting is that it is important to just understand that anything you put up on Facebook, you should consider as being public.  Regardless of how you have setup your privacy settings, ultimately you have no control of your data on Facebook and how someone else, whether a 3rd party or Facebook itself might choose to use that data.  This means if you have children, sit them down and explain this to them.  The consequences of not understanding and being selective about what one puts up on these sites could be significant years from now, perhaps sooner.
If we step back for a moment and consider “Social Networking” in a broader perspective, it really is the fact that we are reachable, and that we can leverage the network effect of having a critical mass of people in our social graph and network.  So at the essence, what Mark Zuckerberg is saying is true – but as with most things in life, it's not just about the “WHAT” it is also about the “HOW”.  If Facebook had just kept everything as “Opt In” instead of “Opt Out” we might not have the situation we have today.  Or if Facebook had any interest in really making it “easy” for its users to manage their privacy settings – thank goodness they're going to make the settings Simplistic now.  I guess the only reason we have to be upset about is that we're just not as smart as Mark, because if we were we wouldn't have a problem with the settings in the first place.
How many Facebook packs…cigarettes…er, I mean updates are you up to this week?  


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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