Resisting Facebook For Comfort And Safety

Facebook knows a lot about you, and would like to more. How do you resist and subvert that impulse without disconnecting completely?

Sara Watson at The Atlantic is surprised and I think, fair to say, dismayed that Facebook (sort of) put together that she was engaged, and asked her about it, even though she did not explicitly tell Facebook this was the case. This is not particularly interesting to me: Facebook knows a lot about you — it literally gets better every day at learning about you, thanks to the magic of the social graph and increasingly sophisticated algorithms — and it would like to know more.

What is interesting to me though is the way that she and her fiance tried to simultaneously subvert and utilize Facebook to announce their engagement:

We did want to share our excitement in other subtle ways, and we further broke the news on Facebook with pictures that spoke for themselves. Nick’s album included the post-proposal shot on the beach with the ring prominently featured, and my album depicted a champagne toast with the ring clearly displayed and a snarky but subtle (by algorithmic standards) caption: “yes, that’s my left hand.” Friends that were close enough to look at vacation photos and perceptive enough to notice the new “bling” posted congratulations and “liked” the shots. And we left it at that.

So Sarah and her fiance have been engaged for almost a year, and they’ve declined all that time to check that relationship status box, to make their relationship easily machine decipherable, loggable, analyzable. (“A profile field can’t possibly contain the moment that we got engaged.”) At the same time, they still used Facebook as tool to tell other people — humans — that they were engaged in way that, theoretically maybe, only humans could decipher: vacation photos and a picture of a ring with a telling caption. A mild form of resistance, maybe — pushing back against the machine, even as one stands inside of it, admiring the decor — but a form of resistance nonetheless.

“How did Facebook insert itself into our most personal relationships like this?” The same way that Twitter inserted itself into our relationship to news and the world happening around us. Connective tissue grows and spreads. (I guess you could say like a cancer, but it’s more like that tumor John Travola had in Phenomenon.) So it’s not surprising you see some tactics of resistance and subversion on Twitter too: fake accounts, joke tweets, tweets that literally break the timeline, disrupting the stream, if only for a second. A friend of mine only posts ugly things on Instagram, so people have to look way. But in the end, you’re not disconnected. You’re still looking at the stream.

I’m probably missing some other forms of resistance within obliged social media interactions — Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram — what else have you got?

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