Things That Actually Kind of Suck: Facebook - Part Deux / by Erin Wade


Facebook is a platform that is supposed to keep us in touch with our friends, our families, even when separated by vast distances. And, to some degree it does that. It's obviously immensely popular, in the literal sense of the word - a lot -lot - of people use it.

It's also doing a delightful job of illustrating some of the worst, and frankly creepiest features of the Internet in general and social media in particular. I submit, for your consideration, three examples, in order of escalating creepiness.

The first is the insistence Facebook has presented in suggesting that I follow Mark Zuckerberg. I assume absolutely everyone sees this particular recommendation, and it seems to be working, as he has a metric shit-ton of followers already:

Follow the Zuck!

Now, I've repeatedly tapped that little "X" in the upper right hand corner to make him go away, and yet he repeatedly returns, like the veritable bad penny or the frustrating bit of dog poo on your shoe that is too tiny to find so you can remove it, but stinks to high heaven. Facebook supposedly uses algorithms to determine who it should recommend you follow. Apparently the salient variables in this particular algorithm are:

  • Does this person exist on the planet earth?
  • Does he or she have a Facebook account?
  • If yes to both, recommend the Zuck.

To be clear, Facebook, I would not, could not follow him on my phone.

I would not, could not, look at him in my home.

I would not, could not tap him on my iPad.

I would not, could not - this recommendation makes me mad.

(Apologies to the estate of Dr. Suess)

The second item is the eerily targeted advertising. The other day I was listening to the ladies on the Nerdette Podcast interviewing Sarah Vowell. It occurred to me that I had a friend, who is a history buff, who might enjoy one of Sarah's books, Assassination Vacation. I hopped over to Amazon to see if it was available there so I could send her a link.

That evening I sit down on the couch and begin to scroll through my Facebook news feed, and I see this:

Why are Amazon and Facebook Stalking Me?

This has become a regular occurrence. My child needed to read the book Life of Pi for school, so I sent it as a Kindle gift and, sure enough, there on Facebook was an ad for Life of Pi.

And let's just set aside, for the moment, just how f&@king stupid it is to advertise a book, that I just bought, to me. Is there some hope that I will have been so excited about my purchase that I will run off to Amazon and buy it again?

And - while we are at it, have you ever noticed how many of the sponsored links that show up on Facebook say that your friends have "liked" that particular item? It's clear that at least some portion of this is an outright lie - check with your friends and ask them if they've done so. I happen to have two of my Facebook friends living here in the same house with me, so I've had the opportunity to do exactly that, and it turns out the answer is "not so much". One of those two - my child - is on Facebook only by protest (apparently the cool kids nowadays prefer Instagram which, I've been informed, I would know if I were a cool kid... But I digress...), and it's quite rare that they even open the Facebook app. And yet, there they are, liking products on a routine basis.

Item number three has to do with phone numbers - specifically, mine.

For some time now, Facebook has been encouraging me to share my phone number with them "for security purposes". This is irritating, to be sure, but it's only that. It's likely an artifact of the extremely limited amount of personal information I actually put on my Facebook profile. As a matter of principle I limit this - ultimately, Facebook is an advertising company - yes, it's a social media platform, but advertising is their source of revenue, so this is really what they are - and I just don't see handing my particulars over to such an entity.

So - irritating I can put up with. In fact. Irritating would describe about 80% of the Facebook experience anyway. So, you know, c'est la vie.

But the other day, something different happened. Instead of "tell us your phone number" I had a notification indicating a specific phone number, and asking if it was mine.

It was. It was my personal cell phone number.

That number is unlisted, and is on the do not call list. I share it sparingly. I have never entered it into Facebook, and won't ever do so.

And there it was, right on my screen, waiting, wanting for me to verify it.

Where did Facebook get it? After a bit of thought, I realized: Facebook got it from my friends.

Periodically this evil little service will ask its users to upload their personal contacts to its servers. If you scroll down to the bottom of the "Friend Requests" page it will offer you that option again, and you will see a list of your Facebook friends who have already done so.

And, of course, some of those people have my phone number.

So let's take this in for just a moment.

This means that Facebook has scanned the contact information uploaded by other people, pulled my phone number out of that information, and used that data to try and get me to give them my number.

Which, let's be honest, they already have, so why would they need to ask me? And in what universe does it register as being okay to both do this in the first place, and to then think that it will be well received to present it to me and ask me if I'd like to verify it?

It's uber-creepy.

What universe is it in which these things seem okay? Mark Zuckerberg's universe.

Which is why I won't be following him.