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How Facebook is like LOST’s Smoke Monster and why you shouldn’t quit

May 19, 2010
189/365 LOST: Smoke Monster

I find it funny that this guy sorta looks like Mark Zuckerberg (Source: stuartpilbrow's Flickr stream).

SPOILER WARNING: If you aren’t caught up on LOST through the Season 5 finale or any of Season 6, you should probably avoid reading this.

If you’re at all considering deleting your Facebook account, think about this: There was never any reason to trust Facebook in the first place.

For all the outrage and negative press…what exactly were people expecting? Oh God, a multimillion-dollar company told us one thing and then changed its policy and is now doing another thing! Shocker. It’s like how Ben Linus thought he had control over the Smoke Monster. Really? That’s somehow revelatory? That an invulnerable, immortal, giant-ass column of smoke that pops out of the jungle and eats people couldn’t be trusted or controlled?

I don’t mean to sit here and hand out wrist-slaps, but understanding the true nature of Facebook is essential, even if you’re dumping your account and focusing on another social network instead. Consider this a primer for setting up your own Sonar Fence or circle of ash—Facebook can’t be controlled, but it can be manipulated to best suit your needs.

There isn’t anything inherently bad about Facebook (or the Smoke Monster)

The people who run Facebook are out to do one thing: run a successful company. I don’t want to say they don’t care about you, but if you can’t/won’t help them achieve their ends, you’re of no use to them (though to be fair, it’s not like Facebook’s racking up a body count).

Similarly, your individual complaints don’t matter, either. Facebook users are no threat to Facebook unless the users are united (another LOST allusion: “Live together, die alone“). If one guy decides he doesn’t like the new privacy settings and quits…who cares? But if a significant number of Facebook users drops off and that drop-off is sustained, that’s a scenario where Facebook would pay attention. (We’ll see what happens on and after May 31.)

The important thing is to not take any of this personally—Facebook’s a business and businesses operate in the best interests of themselves.

Since Facebook operates in its own self-interest, you need to look out for yourself

If, at some point, you punched in a bunch of personal information—phone number, e-mail, whatever else you normally keep closely guarded—thinking, “Oh, there’s a password; I can trust these people!” then you probably weren’t thinking at all. You wouldn’t give out that kind of information to some stranger on the street, nor would you give it out so willfully to some random company that asked for it.

Again, Facebook is a Smoke Monster: It looks like something trustworthy and fun, and it may actually be at times, but you shouldn’t ever trust it completely. Beyond whatever whims cause the privacy policy to change, what’s to stop Facebook from being hacked? We trust banks with our money, but we also know that money is (or can be) insured. Personal information can’t be reimbursed or taken back once it’s out there.

Facebook can be insanely useful

If you really want to quit Facebook, I’m not here to stop you. It’s helped me to connect with friends and contacts who don’t maintain profiles on other networks; it’s also helped me boost my SEO and generally get my name out there, so I’m staying. Since keeping your information safe just requires your due diligence and a little caution, I find quitting Facebook to be a little extreme.

(LOST corollary: The Smoke Monster has led Jack to a freshwater source, protected the Candidates from Widmore’s Nerd Squad (though the jury’s perhaps still out on whether that was good or bad), killed Nikki and Paolo (which was a positive if you were trying really hard that season to like the show) and taken away Sayid’s emotions, which indirectly led to Sayid sacrificing himself to save Jack, Hurley, Kate and Sawyer from dying on Widmore’s submarine.)

Solution to the problem: Be Sawyer—make your own rules

Sawyer is LOST’s con-man and with one glaring exception, he’s done a great job of using the Smoke Monster to his advantage. Basically, any time he finds himself in a situation where he needs the Smoke Monster, he keeps an ace-in-the-hole—some sort of leverage, in case things go sideways (e.g. making deals with Widmore and Smokie to pit them against each other and create a distraction that would give him time to escape The Island).

You can do the same thing. If dealing with Facebook makes you uncomfortable, don’t give in—there are usually alternatives:

  • Tell people to send you a Private Message if they want your e-mail address.
  • Upload your photos to another site you trust (I like Flickr) and use an app to cross-post those on Facebook.
  • List your interests somewhere other than in the Interests section—that way, your profile won’t be listed on public pages for those interests.

Any one of these may represent a little more effort than what Facebook by itself requires, but again, you shouldn’t have to feel like you can’t use Facebook just because everyone else is more comfortable with the public-ness of it than you are.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2010 12:33 am

    This is such a great post. I really like the comparison between the smoke monster and Facebook, because it’s all so true! Like you I don’t plan on getting rid of my Facebook because for myself it does more good than harm. I have been extremely surprised with the overload of media attention on all the new Facebook privacy issues because like you mentioned it’s a business.

  2. May 26, 2010 10:31 am

    I think the main thing is, if you realize how Facebook thinks of you and you’re savvy enough to accept that and distribute your information accordingly, there’s no reason not to use Facebook. The SEO benefits alone are reason enough to stay.

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