Some word of advice to Mr. Zuckerberg
I am fairly skilled with computers. I develop websites and quite often help other people out with their computer problems. But finding things in the privacy settings within Facebook always costs me a little too much time and effort. Therefore I have some advice for Mr. Zuckerberg: Make it easier to navigate through the personal settings of Facebook.
I give this advice not for my own sake. I can live with a couple more minutes of clicking my way through. Maybe this advice is a little bit to help my less techie fellow Facebook users. So they won’t get lost in the Facebook settings maze, give up trying and end up with undesirable privacy settings. But the main reason I provide this advice, is for Mark Zuckerberg his own interests. I’ll explain why.
For my sociology bachelor thesis I did research on how people deal with their different social roles in relation to Facebook. People have social relations with other people from diverse social groups or settings. Various sociologists have found that in face to face contact people act differently to all these different relations in order to give different impressions of their selves. People talk and behave differently to their friends than they do to their parents of colleagues for example.
My research was about how people deal with the fact that within Facebook all their contacts are initially merged to one list of friends. So, without any custom settings, all Facebook friends see their shares on Facebook exactly the same way. In face to face contact they would always fine-tune this differently to each Facebook friend. Or not even tell or show it at all.
Using the Facebook settings and in particular the Facebook lists function users are able to differentiate what they share on Facebook. A user can for example create a list for their sports friends and subsequently share things only with this list. Or the other way around, when a list is created for colleagues to exclude them from obscene party pictures.
By interviewing people on their Facebook use I found that this lists function is not used very often. Even the basic privacy settings are customized by only a few of my interviewees. In general I found that people don’t get in the hassle trying to manage what their different Facebook friends can see or not. It is deemed too much effort and time consuming to sort it all out. Only some are excluding a few colleagues, their parents or ex-lovers.
The common view that emerged from my interviewees is that what’s on Facebook is simply visible to everyone. This results in limited Facebook profiles. Many things won’t get shared because every Facebook friend is able to see it. Only things that are generally accepted by all Facebook friends are shared.
This is bad news for Zuckerberg. His company thrives on the personal information of the Facebook users. Marketers are interested in Facebook because it allows them to target their ads very sharply. The more information about Facebook users is available, the narrower target groups can be defined.
So in this line of thought it would be a very wise thing for Zuckerberg to simplify the privacy settings drastically. Facebook users may share more and thereby tell more about their specific interests. It may make Facebook even more attractive to marketers and subsequently give investors a new boost of confidence in Facebook. It may help Zuckerberg see the value of stock shares rise again.