I deleted my Facebook account a couple of years ago when it began to seem like their bad faith was never-ending. But increasingly I’ve had second thoughts. I have friends and relatives who are mostly active on Facebook and nowhere else. An increasing number of web services (Spotify, for instance) require you to have a Facebook login in order to create an account. And I’m not worried about my personal privacy for the simple reason that I would never in a million years put anything on Facebook that I wouldn’t want world-readable. I recognize entirely that if you’re not paying for a web service, you’re not the customer, you’re the product, and I’m appropriately vigilant on both the social and the technical fronts. When you get right down to it, I use hardware and software tools made by Google, Apple, and Microsoft despite the fact that those organizations have all done foolish and abusive things at one time or another.
So this morning I created a new Facebook account, set myself up as “friends” with a few people, then started clicking my way through the long list of other people Facebook suggested I might know, sending “friend” requests to some of them. About five or ten minutes into this process, at Facebook’s suggestion, I sent such a request to Jane Yolen.
Facebook responded by tossing a warning across my browser window asking me to confirm that I know Jane personally, and warning me that I mustn’t send friend requests to people I don’t know.
Since I’ve known Jane for over twenty years, been an overnight guest at her homes in two countries, traveled across the Scottish Highlands with her along with our respective spouses, been the in-house editor on award-winning novels by her, had a short story published in an anthology she edited, published (in Starlight 1) a story by her that went on to win the Nebula Award, and co-edited an anthology with her, I kind of figured I was on safe ground in confirming that I know her personally.
Facebook responded by tossing me out of my account and informing me that my ability to send friend requests will be disabled for the next two days. And of course there’s absolutely no avenue of appeal. I understand that this is just some automated system kicking in, but you’d think that Facebook’s algorithm for doing this would have the wit to notice that Jane Yolen is “friends” with over 50% of the other people I’m already “friends” with, including my wife.
Jane and I are now Facebook friends anyway, because she sent me a friend request which I accepted. I seem to be able to accept requests, just not to send them, so friends and associates should certainly feel free to send them to me. I’ll keep my Facebook account (unless they throw me off for, I dunno, saying hello to John Scalzi or posting on Beth Meacham’s wall), but I’m thoroughly reminded of its downside. While trivial in the greater scheme of theings, the experience completely reinforces my suspicion that Facebook is a set of tools for human social life designed by people who are profoundly bad at human social life.