Why Can’t We Have Antisocial Media?

I’m not the biggest fan of Facebook. For a start, I’m somewhat antisocial. Not in an ‘ASBO’ way but more in a ‘meh’ way. The idea of people I haven’t seen since I left school trying to ‘friend’ me on Facebook is not appealing. I do understand that sometimes people lose touch, but that’s not applicable here. I’ve no real interest in what my former peers are doing now. Nor do I care how many kids they’ve got, what they had for dinner or any of the usual shite that adorns Facebook timelines.

My Facebook account has only ever really served a couple of purposes. It allows me to update family members on how my mum is doing, enables me to administrate this site’s (oft-forgotten) page and check out some other pages such as Angry People in Local Newspapers without that irritating ‘Sign Up’ banner blocking half the screen.

Beyond that, I’ve always found the service to be of little interest. Given that the majority of my “friends” on Facebook are family members, my timeline gets filled with a string of right-wing propaganda mixed with updates on unusual hobbies. Occasionally I see the odd ultrasound picture or a video of someone’s kid doing something that I assume is shared for amusement purposes. Mostly, it’s quite lame.

I’m Afraid I Can’t Let You Do That, Kath

Today, however, I was using it for a couple of things. Perhaps because I dared to use it differently, I got hit with a request to verify who I was. Facebook asked me to upload a photograph of myself. I’m not entirely sure what this will prove? You see, those who know me (which Facebook doesn’t, despite its prying eyes), will know that I value my privacy. I don’t use Snapchat, Instagram, etc. because I’m not overly fond of taking photos of myself and uploading them all over. Consequently, my Facebook account doesn’t contain a single image of me.

I don’t use the account much. I’m not on the hunt for new acquaintances. Those who I have added as friends know what I look like. Sure, I can imagine to some people this will look suspicious but I’m not trying to get to know you. I hardly ever send Friend Requests and I reject 99% of the ones that are sent to me. Facebook will likely compare that image to a database of images to check it hasn’t been pulled from Google Images or uploaded to another person’s account. Those things alone don’t verify anything other than my ability to get hold of a photograph. On the surface, it’s a meaningless exercise.

Protecting Your Privacy? That’s a Paddlin’

It also underlines why I guard my privacy and my personal space. We live in a society of algorithms and automated processes designed to evaluate our every move and categorise us into neat little boxes. The slightest deviation from what the computer expects results in a challenge. More and more we run into obstacles placed in our path by automated systems. To navigate over these blocks, we are required to sacrifice more of our data and privacy. Failure to submit to the computer’s demands and you get blocked or perma-banned.

I find it somewhat ironic that this happened today, as Facebook get slapped with hefty fines for their part in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Zuckerberg has long held the idea of individual privacy in contempt. His product is a haphazard mishmash of code designed to shape online communications in a way that works for him. No doubt such measures are also a reaction against those who would misuse his baby for nefarious deeds. With that in mind, you can understand why Facebook wants to snuff out suspect accounts. Unfortunately, their definition of ‘suspicious activity’ extends to anyone who behaves in contrast to the script.

The Computer Says ‘Not Until I Know Everything’

Facebook is hardly unique in this regard. More and more, simply using a debit or credit card can trigger the ‘unusual activity’ flag and a paranoid anti-fraud system prevents you from spending. Other online services send similar challenges. Regardless of how many security measures (such as 2FA) you might already have in place, it’s never enough to stop the quizzing.

Some people are even demanding that more of your private info is handed over to social media conglomerates. They feel it is a necessary step to fight the scourge of fake news and Russians. In their ideal world, all profiles should get tied to identifiable information. The fear of misled voters is starting to trump the rights of those who wish to use the Internet without dealing with the consequence of privacy erosion.

I’m obviously not against security and ensuring that systems are safe. I do object to paranoid approaches driven solely by overly touchy computers and fear. I’ve sent Facebook a photo, but I resent the fact I’m required to do so. They have both a verified phone number and an email address. As stated, a photo doesn’t prove anything, nor do I believe they have any right to demand my image. If Cambridge Analytica teaches Facebook anything it’s that they should only request and process data with the consent of their users. If they deactivate my account because they have no other photos of me to compare then all I can say is, meh, who cares? Should they ask for even more information, like a Photo ID then my answer will simply be ‘fuck ’em’.