The Political Life of My Facebook Self

I use Facebook. I think it flawed and a simulacrum of productive time-wasting, but I know how to enjoy it. Instead of watching another episode of Family Guy I’d rather check in the happenings of friends and colleagues, and more recently, actual family members. Yet I don’t let it consume me or structure my days anymore. Admittedly, when I first signed up (I was pretty late coming to Facebook but not as late as some others who needed quite a bit more convincing) I felt compelled to respond whole-heartedly to all friend requests, posts, pokes, notifications and tiki tropical drinks offered to me. After the initial wave of assimilation, Facebook became a tool: a way to alert friends to an interesting article, a way to look at new and beautiful babies that are out of my hug range, a way to see that old and new friends were sharing space in a delicate, digital way. I hadn’t been pulled into the politics of it all–not yet.

A week or two into it all, a politically punk rock friend posted something about the gender-biased advertising she was forced to view on her Facebook home page because she’d correctly selected ‘female’ as her sex. Most of the ads were about beautification options and a whole bunch about dieting with the acai berry (which truth be told is an amazing fruit, try it out). The point is, Facebook was deciding that because I was a woman I was probably really concerned about my crows’ feet and the assumed average of 50 extra pounds that as an American women I was probably carrying around with me. Yet I was concerned with their assumptions and became mad at Facebook for the first time. So I de-sexed.

Now, each time when I log on I find this at the top of my page:


Am I really confusing anyone? If you know me, as all my Facebook friends actually do, you most likely know that I am a woman, so stick it Facebook, I’ve gone gender neutral. I can outlast your constantly present and prodding question about my own known gender on my own profile page. I will outlast you, I say! Now I just get ads for foreclosed homes, Honda vehicles, and owning a copy of Sin City on Blu-Ray. Decidely not female-based advertising. It was my first political act on Facebook and the result was productive if not a bit underwhelming. 

Most folks probably realize that a social networking site with 200 million members is suggestively not the right place for personal political grandstanding but I had to own my own little plot in this social sand box. I needed to not feel duped, or overly-categorized, or restricted or too exposed. I had Facebook boundaries.

The next visible bump in the road was the ridiculous (sorry) uproar over the new Facebook layout. I didn’t get what all the hullaballo was about. I work in the media production industry where with every update of your computer your software is potentially changed into a completely different layout and you just have to adjust and move on. Yet the ‘2 million against the New Facebook Layout’ group seemed menacing and defiant and I thought maybe Facebook could support a little anarchy until I realized that they really only had about 67,000 members (which is around .03% of all users). They had me fooled. It did, however, make me realize that organization was possible here. People could rally together in support and get organized! Hey, I had done that right? I checked the fan pages I belonged to to find out who had the largest backing in numbers and it turned out to be the fan page for Dark Knight with 1.6 million fans. So, yeah. Not that political. But who was I to object? I was one of the millions. The not-so-close second was 627,520 fans of the wonderfully talented and capable Captain C.B. Sully Sullenberger who deftly landed his plane in the Hudson saving hundreds, nay thousands, of lives. Love that guy. Glad he was getting props. 


(The person, place or thing that I am a fan of but has the least fans to date? softelbow, a great project of imagination run by two of my friends who like to make soft and absolutely wonderful things. Please, become their fan.)


So my fan support of things on Facebook weren’t too political, it seemed. I was a fan of pop culture just like everybody else. But what organizations did I belong to? Where was my political voice being heard? Well, for starters, I couldn’t even find the groups I was apart of in the new layout (hmm…) but I know that I supported the Free School in Brooklyn, the National Education Association and the United Federation of Teachers. I also was a friend of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Was that good enough? Why was it so important to me to keep it political too? I guess that is a representation of me, my interests, and what makes me tick. I would feel too guilty if I only touted It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Aretha Franklin’s Inauguration Hat. 

I haven’t been hitting the ol’ FB as much recently, so I was shocked to see that there was a Facebook Revolt happening on the cover of New York Magazine recently. Did I miss something? Where was my update about the Revolt? Did I need to join the revolt or at least become a fan of it? Maybe I will just poke the revolt, I thought. 


The title of Vanessa Grigoriadis’ article ‘Do You Own Facebook? Or Does Facebook Own You?‘ with the subtitle ‘Trust is a fragile commodity’ was promising. I was gonna get some Facebook dirt and hopefully re-stoke my political Facebook fire! Grigoriadis starts her article discussing things that I found I was compromising by being a user: security settings, ownership of imagery, issues of privacy. I had heard about their policies but admittedly I hadn’t read every word of their Terms of Service. I was trusting those that had come before me. I mean, if it was good enough for them… Apparently, awhile back Facebook set up Terms of Service that were really pissing people off. As Grigoriadis quotes from a post from the Consumerist website: “Facebook’s New Terms of Service: We Can Do Anything With Your Content. Forever.” Yikes! Is that true? I read on and it seems that one user ignited an online riot, challenged this idea, and Facebook actually replied. They said they would put their Terms of Service up to a vote. Wow! Yet Grigoriadis’ article is only bookended with these issues–the meat of her writing centers around her perception of the culture of Facebook: the voyeurism, the odd friend request, the ghostly shadow of Twitter creeping up behind. Maybe I was reading too much into the title–where was the dirt? Do we have a say? When do we get to vote?

Two paragraphs before the article’s end I found this inspiring bit: 

“Facebook may well turn out to be some sort of democracy, or at least, as Cox says, a “democracy in spirit.” “I think there’s a little-d democratic analogy here, to the U.S. government for instance,” says Chris Kelly. “You don’t get to vote on every budget item: You get to vote for your representatives, and you can rise up in constitutional convention, if you want to organize one of them, but on a foundational level, there’s a consent to be governed.” This might be as much as we can expect on the web. If it is, then our fates are already tied together, because we can either rise up in large numbers, or remain silent—rule-followers, faceless Facebook members.”

So I went to Facebook after I finished the article and the vote is on! Through April 23rd, we shall have the ability to speak our minds (or at least click a button or two).  I guess it’s up to us and I think that is good news.  I’m off to read the newly proposed terms of service (in their entirety, yes) and make my ‘little-d democratic’ presence known. I do feel like we should have a say on Facebook if it’s to be any reflection of ourselves in life–a way to make the simulacrum a little more real. I mean, I truly do like to vote! Who doesn’t?

Posted by: Autumn.


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