How to Lose Friends and Influence People

The good news is that libraries can have Facebook pages again. Many used to, and then were evicted when Facebook decided only individuals could apply. (Whether you can run apps that lead people away from Facebook – say, into your catalog – is another matter . . .)

The bad news is that Facebook’s new advertising policies are alarming. They hope to recruit members as a sales force for participating products – they call it social advertising. Not only will ads be tailored to what I’m doing online (yes, we’r getting sadly used to that), they will be sent to others with my face on them. Well, maybe not MY face, surely Facebook has better sense than that. But the idea that my “friendships” would be used for spamming acquaintances in my name is disturbing. It may also be illegal. Facebook isn’t too worried, though. We can opt out if we so choose. If we don’t, though, we’ll be recommending products to friends. The New York Times examined this in its advertising industry coverage.

“Nothing influences a person more than a recommendation from a trusted friend,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.

Facebook users will not be able to avoid these personally recommended ads if they are friends with participating people. Participation can involve joining a fan club for a brand, recommending a product or sharing information about their purchases from external Web sites.

Mr. Zuckerberg said he thought this system would make the site feel “less commercial,” because the marketing messages will be accompanied by comments from friends. When asked about people who might not like ads, Mr. Zuckerberg shrugged and said, “I mean, it’s an ad-supported business.”

Librarians have a healthy concern for reader privacy. Our assumptions have been challenged lately by Web 2.0 affordances like book recommendation engines and social networking around what we read. (Sometimes the response to privacy concerns is “just get over it!”) We want to enable the kinds of social networking that people want, without storing permanent records of every book they choose to explore. Our main concern has been Big Brother. Now it’s clear we have to watch out for Big Business. (Well, we knew that . . . but this is a new and insidious move.)

We don’t always do a good job of explaining our values to non-librarians. We explain them when asked, and when we’re really cornered, as with the PATRIOT Act, we might go so far as to put up a sign. But privacy – the use of information about me – is something that is increasingly “opt out” only and the violation of that privacy is becoming the engine of commerce. Our discussion of the ethical use of information (per the information literacy standards) tends to begin and end with plagiarism. Shouldn’t we also be talking about the ethics of information more broadly?

About Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

4 thoughts on “How to Lose Friends and Influence People

  1. Facebook is becoming more and more like MySpace with every change they make. It’s sad, but at the end of the day it’s about the bottom-line, not changing the world.

    There is will probably be a rush of academic libraries setting up shop with new profiles, but that’s a boring and unimaginative use of the utility. FB has so much potential, but librarians seem to be only interested in investing minimal effort and expecting great outcomes: built it and they will come.

    It’s a nice little checkmark for the strategic plan under the objective “increase student outreach” – but I’m not buying into it. Without designing engagement experiences, Facebook is simply a distraction. Librarians and staff appear to be using the network to talk with each other rather than with users, and that’s fine, but just drop the pretense about it being all about the students.

  2. Nussbaum asks in his latest post if FB, MyS and other open social networks aren’t already dead. He believes the “gated social network” – one where you have to be invited and there is an air of exclusivity – are poised to take. Apparently all of the ads and lack of privacy in the big networks is getting people moving to other networks. See it at:
    http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/NussbaumOnDesign/
    I think there will still be plenty of our students in FB. No need to think they are deserting it yet.

    Brian makes a good point. What are we doing here? I’d like to find better ways to use the social network to get students to contribute their content to our sites or otherwise get them to know who we are. That said I do think we can help students by giving them easier tools for their research – that are integrated in to the FB page. That’s why I like the LibGuide application.

  3. I don’t know . . . what I get out of Facebook is the ability to stay in touch with people from different corners of my world – students, former students, friends in the UK, people whose work I admire, etc. without a lot of effort. I can share photos and news and see what they’re doing. It’s a weird mix of blog, twitter, e-mail, and water cooler. It’s not deep and I don’t spend lots of time there, but I enjoy checking in. Oh, his baby is already a year old. She just had a book published. Oh, here’s an invitation from a student I lost track of.

    I’m not sure, if we put up a library page, what it would look like, but I wouldn’t expect students to use it for work. I wouldn’t make it too engaging. I’d use it to share news, silliness, love, commentary – it would be as a very shallow Daily Show to our Evening News. Only that’s a bad analogy because in it’s weird way the Daily Show really is news.

    I wouldn’t spend a ton of time on it, or expect any of its “friends” to, either, but it might be a way to pop a little news and possibly flippancy into people’s feeds.

    That said, if it becomes a giant spam machine, I won’t be doing anything with it because I’ll be outta there.

    And exclusive invitation-only clubs that consider things like age and influence for admission sound absolutely appalling. I would never join one of those (in the unlikely event I were ever invited.)

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