Why are people willing to give Facebook so much power?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

There is the related issue, going back to the beginning of the human race, regarding the deference that humans grant one another. Should we allow others to judge us? If so, how much? But now there is the more modern issue of allowing a for-profit corporation to moderate much of that calculation of social status. Personally, I shut down my Facebook account in 2011.

And therein lies the problem. Facebook largely sets its own rules for what its rules are. Remember, the company’s privacy policy only dictates what it’s allowed to do in legal terms—not how specific features are implemented. However, Facebook can and has drastically changed how your data is presented without necessarily changing its policies to do it. And whether it’s a change to policy or functionality, Facebook is largely unaccountable due to its massive size.

Back in 2010 (when Facebook was far smaller), a developer named Matt McKeon made this interactive graphic showing how Facebook’s privacy settings have changed over time. This looks at the default settings, and some can be changed, but for the most part, this is the average Facebook users’ experience. In 2005, the only data that was visible to all Facebook users was your name, picture, gender, and which networks you were in. No data was completely public. By April 2010, the general, non-Facebook using public could potentially see your wall posts, photos, likes, friends, and other data unless you intentionally lock it down. It happened gradually over a period of years and some policy changes were required (one notable change added the previously-absent public tier), but many changes did not.

…The problem with this may be more subtle, but it’s still important. Your perception has a huge impact on your reality. If you get into heated political arguments on Facebook a lot, the news feed might assume you’re interested in political posts and show you more, tempting you to argue even more. You might see more negative posts that drag you down because supportive people interact with a post and drive it up. And let’s not forget the manipulative effect of advertising.

Not all of this means Facebook is evil, of course. But it does mean that you have to understand that your feed is an illusion. It’s easy to get yourself down because everyone on Facebook seems happy, or to feel like an imposter because everyone else seems to have their lives in order. For better or worse, Facebook is a big part of how most of us perceive our friends and family’s lives, which puts it in a unique position to skew our perceptions. Even if it’s not intentional.