Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Facebook Follies

As I write this, I am partially banned from Facebook. Sort of. I tried to access the site this afternoon, and got a message that I needed to log in again. Then, I couldn’t. I got a message that my computer is infected with malware. OK, so if it really is, I’ve got no problem with a little security. Buuuuuuut… (You knew this was coming, didn’t you, Gentle Reader?)

OK, there are two problems here. Problem #1: My computer is not infected with malware. Or so says my Norton Anti-Virus package, after a full-system scan totaling about 1.2 million individual items. What got turned up was a few dozen tracking cookies: another day online, in other words. Malware? Not a bit. Perhaps the problem is related in some way to my inability to post links to this blog on the Curmudgeon Central Facebook page, a problem I’ve been experiencing for a couple of days. Perhaps not. Anyway, given the choice between believing what Norton tells me (good or bad) and what Facebook tells me (good or bad) about whether I have a problem with my computer, guess how many times out a 100 I’m going to believe the latter. Hint: it’s an integer, and it’s less than 1.

Problem #2: After running the aforementioned scan, I tried to sign back into my Facebook account. Having dutifully checked the box swearing I had indeed checked and my computer was malware-free, I could then check into my account… with the proviso that I can’t post anything (status updates, comments, messages) for 24 hours. This means both as myself and as the admin of the Curmudgeon Central site (and of a couple of others about which most of you rightly couldn’t care less). Of course, I had to test this proposition… on line it says “for a few days.” So, we’ll see.

In any case, we’re back at two problems. Problem #1: if your super-whingy-dingy program doesn’t detect any malware now, then what is accomplished by keeping me from posting? (If it does show malware, then f*cking fix it!) Problem #2: if my computer has a problem, then shut off the IP address, not my account in general. Actually, it turns out that this is what really happened, an eventuality I discovered by taking the rather reasonable precaution of not believing anything Facebook tells me. Which brings us to Problem #2A: shouldn’t FB provide accurate information to its clientele?

All of this would pre-suppose, however, that Facebook actually cares about getting things right. They never did before, why should they now that Google+ has turned out to be so little competition? More to the point, getting it right would require a higher degree of technical sophistication than arrogance: a hierarchy of priorities with which they have little if any experience. Needless to say, Facebook provides no means of contacting whatever moron made the erroneous call or programmed the software or whatever. They’re invincible, you see. No one can survive without them, so they can do whatever they damned please. Just like MySpace. Or LiveJournal. Or VHS tapes.

So here’s the deal. Not being able to post from my laptop is not an enormous deal: I can use my phone or the desktop in the next room. And really, no one particularly cares whether I had a good Christmas, nor will they experience severe distress at missing out on some wry comment I might otherwise have made. My friends will even bear up under the strain of not seeing photographs of my cats being adorable. It’s a bigger pain in the ass that I still can’t seem to post links to this page on the CC FB page. Still haven’t figured out how or why that happened. But the annoyance, however mild, does serve to remind us all of how much Facebook has taken over many of our lives.

I get a good share of my news via Facebook posts: between my personal account and the CC page, I “like,” meaning in effect that I subscribe to newsfeeds from, literally dozens sites dealing with news and/or news analysis and commentary: The Guardian, a couple of Huffington Post pages, AlterNet, Media Matters for America, Talking Points Memo, Rachel Maddow, and a lot more. Plus, I also get news feeds from a host of other Facebook pages much like my own (although most have more subscribers than I do): Being Liberal, The Athena Tree, Proud to Be a Filthy Liberal Scum, Carlinist, Don’t Invite Anyone Who Thinks Ayn Rand Makes Sense to Your Next Party… you get the idea.

These sources provide me with not only the raw materials for most of my own blog-writing, but also with a sizeable percentage of the information that shapes my world view. Not all, of course: I still access the websites of MSNBC, CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times, etc., with some regularity. Hell, I even look at the Fox News site on occasion, though more often than not I end up in disbelief that anyone would regard them as more credible than the National Enquirer. But I’m lazy. When news comes to me, it’s easier. Presumably most readers of this blog also “like” the CC Facebook page, meaning you’re even further down the food chain than I am: if you read the stuff I link to, it’s because you haven’t already seen it elsewhere.

So what we need to do—or at least be prepared to do—is to go to Plan B in a not-so-hypothetical scenario in which Facebook screws up. This might be an appropriate time to suggest that if you are a regular reader of this blog, you might glance to the right side of your screen and fill in your e-mail address where it says to do so. You won’t get an immediate notification when new material goes up, but you’ll at least get an e-mail once a day if there’s a new piece.

More importantly, we need to begin to prioritize differently. That’s been true for a long time, of course. But we need to go to news sites proactively, to talk to our friends live and in person when possible, to be a little more self-reliant and a little more truly social rather than to fritter away time on a “social network.” You and I will both readily survive my reduced Facebook presence for a day or two. Take the few minutes you might have been reading my stuff to track down an article on your own, to pet your dog, to kiss your sig-o, to play with your kids.

Thanks, Facebook. I’m most appreciative of you when you’re not working properly. As luck would have it, that’s not infrequently.

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