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good versus evil

Friday fun for the IT crowd: The two sides of Facebook

January 22, 2015
By Lisa Dare

Facebook: the bad corporate citizen manipulating its users and stealing their data.

Facebook: the force for positive social change.

So which is it? As the social media site produces headline after headline—some alarming, some encouraging—it can be hard to make up your mind about Facebook. We'll lay out the case.   

Facebook's good side

Amber Alerts

Facebook is partnering with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to push Amber Alerts to users in geographically relevant regions. These notifications to the public help police catch child kidnappers, and have helped save more than 700 kids since 1996. Facebook’s incredibly broad reach could help expand the program’s success.

Civic duty

Facebook wants you to vote. (Yes, I know Facebook is a corporation and not a person, but it still wants you to vote). The site has successfully experimented with nudging users to vote in midterm elections, using tactics like letting users post an “I voted” badge, providing links to polling location info and posting get-out-the-vote messages. However, while increasing civic engagement is an undisputed good, critics contend Facebook has the power to alter the outcome of elections by selectively targeting voters for these messages.  

Facebook's bad side

Big Brother

The most powerful argument against Facebook is its collection, use and sale of users’ data, especially as the company gets more sophisticated in figuring out our offline activities.

Fueling addiction

Critics say Facebook, far from bringing people together, is creating social alienation. Not only that, but it can nurture an unhealthy social media addiction. (Did that link need a "satire" tag?) 

Facebook's ugly side

More Big Brother

Remember that time you started to write a snarky response to your uncle’s nonsensical political rant? And then you wisely deleted it before publishing? Well, Facebook remembers it too, because the company collects data about our self-censorship, i.e., the posts we type but don’t publish. Right now Facebook says it only collects info about the behavior, not the actual content. But the technology currently exists to capture your unpublished text, so the famously fickle company may well change its mind in the future.  

Facebook shades of grey

Sorry, bad pun.

Perhaps you've read that your cell phone number is about to be released to telemarketers unless you sign up for the Do Not Call list. Or that noted economist Paul Krugman declared bankruptcy. Or your kid’s favorite juice box might contain horrifying mold. Yep, the Facebook hoax strikes again. And while the stories making the rounds are usually easily verifiable as false, Facebook helps both obvious hoaxes and legitimate-looking stories circulate widely.

Facebook is feeling used, and is ready to stop pranksters with a new reporting function allowing people to flag a story as a hoax. While this won’t cause Facebook to delete posts, the site may show them in fewer news feeds, and also mark them with a notification that other users had identified a post as potentially being a hoax. (The site has not announced a way to flag your friends’ obviously false humblebrags, though). 

As desirable as stemming the tide of false news is, Facebook's heavy-handed control of users' news feeds continues to alarm critics.  

Your turn: After reading the case for and against Facebook, what's your verdict? Tell us in the comments below.

Read our recent post about so-bad-they're-good hacking movies.

Lisa Dare is a marketing writer for TEKsystems who enjoys learning about IT from some of the smartest folks in tech. She frequently blogs about IT career advice and the lighter side of tech, and on her off days loves to kayak and play with her toddler son.

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