…doesn’t make it right.
Remember War of the Worlds?
As seen in my Media Effects & Propaganda article written two years ago, the radio broadcast created nationwide panic and thus allowed anyone to see the social effects that were made possible by the media. Interestingly, while panic was observed during the broadcast, some people were still able to remain calm and collected. Two years later, this lead physiologists Hadley Cantril, Hazel Gaudet, and Herta Herzog to study the phenomenon where some people seemed more susceptible to the effects of the radio broadcast as compared to others. What they found out was that those who were not frightened were not suggestible because they displayed what psychologists called a critical faculty.
The lack of critical faculty was the lack of the ability to create a framework in which to check if the information were true. People who lacked critical faculty included those in the lower income bracket or educational level, as they would have considerably limited sources of information to refer to.
Looking back at how students are dealing with the Facebook “privacy” issue makes me lose faith in the chance of collective intelligence, and that perhaps this is one of the biggest instances of groupthink. I’ve witnessed users whose actions seem to be based on convenience (e.g. flocking behavior) rather than individual deliberate thoughts on the issue. At this point, I get the sensation that its just cool to be with the “anti” pack.
While such is my personal perspective on the issue, Danah Boyd takes the opposite stand and argues it from a cultural paradigm. She believes that this is Facebook’s mistake and wonders if the company could get themselves out of the rut unscathed. The gist of her piece was on how radical changes to the way things work and telling users how to behave is likened to “configuring the user”, which disrupts the sutainability of a community of happy users. I take this as a usuability issue and agree that such leaps of faith should have been taken as tepid steps instead, allowing users time to adjust to their new environment.
Even if something seems advantageous from the top-down view, being on the actual ground with the user let one see their immediate needs which might at times conflicts with the bigger picture. If there’s a lesson to be learnt from all this, perhaps it boils back down to managing user expectations. Making small changes over time might have been the better way to go.
UPDATE: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has addressed the privacy/usability issue by allowing users to pick what they wish to share on the news feed. You can turn it off entirely if you really have to, but remember that users can still look up your profile to see what you’ve been up to.