Farewell to Facebook? A Federal Executive’s Dilemma

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I like to think of myself as one of the early adopters (at least in my generation) of what we now know as “social networking.”  As far back as 2004, I became curious about this phenomenon, ironically due to an issue relating to IT security in the home. At the time, I was exploring knowledge management for the Department of State and researching different forms of content management, including MySpace, which was foreign to the average IT professional at that time. My interest was piqued when MySpace (described as a “web site”) played a significant role in a tragedy at my son’s high school.  As the only PTA parent willing to take on the research, I volunteered to report on the “web sites,” which turned out to be MySpace. To make a long story short, I made the report and became immersed in the then-mysterious world of social networking.  My interest was heightened by the ability to peer into my son’s MySpace activity, a story for another time.

I trailed my son from MySpace and into Facebook, as it became a networking phenomenon in the latter half of the last decade.  Besides affording me a peek into college life, Facebook became useful as an adult social networking tool once it was opened up to non-students. I recall using it to support Government Outreach for the 2007 ACT-IAC Management of Change Conference.

Like most everyone I know, I have been swept up by the Facebook tidal wave, eavesdropping on “friends” lives and reconnecting with old friends (the real kind) and former classmates.  It was fun while it lasted, but I have decided that I no longer need to rediscover any more old classmates, adopt new “Facebook friends” or find missing friends. The mid-life crisis is over; it is time to return to adult business.

Why? Because I have concluded that Facebook knows too much about me and my life. For example, although I have never entered the year of my birth into the Facebook profile, Facebook’s advertisers are able to discern my age quite accurately.  Of course, we as IT professionals understand that Facebook looks at your “friends,” classmates, and interests to deduce information about you that is eerily on point. The database is as extensive as it is intelligent, with more than 43% of Americans utilizing some form of social networking.

On the commercial side, most businesses now have a Facebook presence with a “Like” button that we are all too willing to push. In our case, we need to keep in mind that the same “Like” button reads “Easy” to those who wish to capture or market information about us.  Consider the fact that in the social networking world, the line between our personal and professional lives is often blurred.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO and President, has expressed his concern about the privacy of its 500M+ users. Although I have no reason to doubt his sincerity, I am not ready to trust his ability to manage Facebook’s more than 1 billion objects, and 30 billion pieces of content.  If you have ever tried to make your Facebook identity “go away,” it is a daunting, if not impossible, task.

For me, as Facebook becomes an increasingly bigger business tool, its utility for social networking diminishes accordingly.  Most importantly, Facebook’s ability to generate revenue makes it a target for those whose predilection is to profit criminally.  As government officials, we must be vigilant in our understanding that those who would wish to do harm the United States Government, our agencies, and us as Federal officials, have access to a treasure trove of information.

When I read that Time Magazine named Mr. Zuckerberg its “Person of the Year,” I decided to let my Facebook account rest. Now that Facebook is valued at more than $50B and was the willing recipient of a $500M infusion from Goldman Sachs, I concluded that I am no longer a friend, but a customer, which is far from my original intent in signing up.  The upside is I no longer need to constantly check for “news” about other peoples’ lives.  Farewell, Facebook; it was a quite a ride, but my responsibilities as a Federal Government employee far outweigh my cyber-social networking needs.

DISCLAIMER

The views presented here are the express opinion of the author and do not represent any official position of the United States Government or the U.S. Department of State.

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