Is there life beyond Facebook?

Is Facebook pulling the wool over users' eyes?

Imagine life without the Facebook. You may not have to imagine it; it could happen. Could you stand it?

Lemme think: I survived for a full and fruitful four decades without it. I do get sick of being digitally poked and prodded lately. We aren’t cattle after all, we’re sheep. (See “Like Facebook sheep to slaughter (LIKE!).) And don’t even get me started on Farmville; I strictly disallow such weed-like apps in my FB experience.

Facebook has its plusses: It has helped me reconnect with mentors whom I thought might have died by now. Funny how, in our teens and 20s, we assume all older people are WAY older; then, a few blinks later, they are our peers.

But be honest: We all have bones to pick with The Social Network. Its annoying layout changes no one requested; those creepy Big Brother ads that prove it does track our clicks and circulate our data; the peer pressure to friend strangers; the injustice of a Harvard dropout with few real-life friends becoming the youngest-ever billionaire with 750 million fake friends, 50% of whom log on every day to drain our nation’s productivity.

People spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook, according to its FAQ page. Ever more sites are enabling our addiction with automatic sharing buttons and access frames through which other apps peer. Facebook execs also are targeting struggling media companies with tips on piggy-backing hits.

This has gotta be irritating to other geeks. So why wouldn’t sabotage be tempting? Worst of all, Facebook is one of those companies that has exported its headquarters to Ireland to escape twice-as-high corporate U.S. taxes, which means all the income we generate for it is being exported overseas, along with American jobs.

And a personal thorn …

Facebook's sacrificial lamb: She was only exercising her free speech right.

In February 2010, my daughter, a heavy Facebook user, was kicked off because of its self-policing policy that empowers fellow users to report abuse, the equivalent of a citizen’s arrest.

The Dresden Dolls -- shown in proportion to band contribution (to be honest, c'mon, and I love Brian as much as the next fan)

Her crime: sheepishly playing along with one of those viral games — the one where you choose a famous doppelgänger as your profile picture. She identifies with Amanda “the ‘F’ word” Palmer, the better half of the punk-cabaret duo Dresden Dolls (sorry, Brian), and who is all about free speech, file-sharing and uploading video of their concerts. To accompany a solo album, Palmer had collaborated with her husband-to-be, Neil Gaiman, on a lovely coffeetable book, Who Killed Amanda Palmer. My daughter chose, from its array of murder vignettes, an especially edgy shot and, bam, deactivated, no questions asked, no true appeal process. After a month of peaceful protest, we had to pull a few strings to get her account restored.

If Facebook were to be taken down even for a day, I might see it a bit as comeuppance.

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But, really? A self-policing state, Facebook? Is that not socialism? Should we trust fellow users to make such judgments about what’s fair game, fair use, a fair call? Same thing with all these “report” buttons everywhere — “report as spam,” report abuse.” Even “like” and “dislike” have repercussions. Who is marking these things, and who comes along afterward as arbiter? No one. It’s chaos. It gives mere PEOPLE all the power!

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Anonymous, this is the forum you are targeting. Socialist or fascist or cultist (blind leading the blind) … whatever it is, it is populism at play. 

Since its initial threat in July, Anonymous has backpedaled on its spin, saying it isn’t really out to destroy Facebook — that this is merely an awareness campaign; its followers are anti-following prophets. The simple message: Don’t trust Facebook with your private info.

The cornerstone of any civilized society, though, is trust. Although it’s called a “free”way, we trust other drivers not to use the roads as bumper-car courses. We trust, when we type in our credit card number and security code to purchase an Ahh Bra, that we won’t get charged for a Wurlitzer jukebox shipped from Germany to New Zealand. We trust that the man dressed like a security officer is not going to start shooting young children or blow up buildings. Although there are always bad apples, we also trust that there will be someone to protect us, in the end. And sometimes, we err on the side of “benefit of the doubt.”

In Facebook we trust. The omniprescent.

The chosen one: Mark Zuckerberg

Still. Mark Zuckerberg is not my shepherd. And though I walk into the valley of Farmville, I fear Facebook’s evil.

So whose side am I on? It’s complicated, as is my relationship to Facebook.

If it turns out, on Nov. 5, that the new social order we’ve come to know as Facebook — my friends and I even talk about Facebook when we get together face to face! — should bow to anarchy and destruction, maybe I’d have time enough, at last, to read all of those books I never get a chance to read.

Just like the socially disconnected Burgess Meredith, below, in the conclusion of this three-part Twilight Zone episode (have we drained enough of your time yet?):

Like Facebook sheep to the slaughter (LIKE!)

Sheep

On the bleat beat: Hackltivism BAAAAAAAAAD! (Image by James Good via Flickr)

Trembling, I type, joining a herd of quivering bloggers discussing Anonymous’ revolving threat to “kill” Facebook on Nov. 5. That would be Guy Fawkes Day, which honors a British zealot who in 1605 was thwarted in a plot to blow up Westminster Palace and the politicians meeting within.

Bleat the sheep: Hacktivism baaaaaaad. Facebook LIKE!

Still, I’m having trouble sorting out the “sides” in what seems a battle for cyberspace dominance lately. As a journalist, I thought “free speech” was always the good guy. Yet online, the idea seems in test mode, as social-media conflagrations blur lines of good and evil. 

Egypt sets off a chain reaction.

Take the increasingly popular “flash mob.” Once a vehicle for creativity and building community — e.g. stopping time in Times Square — it logically morphed into a tool of protest, e.g. Operation Hey Mackey, which took root in September 2009 at an Oakland Whole Foods to spotlight the “green” giant’s CEO’s seemingly hypocritical stance on health care.

Then from protest to revolution: Facebook famously provided the grid for the Mideast uprisings sown in Egypt in January, spreading democracy … we think. Taken to the extreme, flash mobs are becoming synonymous with crime — enter the looting gangs in Philadelphia and suburban D.C.

Can anarchy be far behind?

This past week, it looked like anarchy in San Francisco. Good vs. evil got blurrier as outrage over the July killing of a homeless man by Bay Area Rapid Transit system police escalated into scuffling protests that were, interestingly, incited by Anonymous and fueled by Facebook (on the same side?). In response, police shut down wireless access, clamping free speech — a blanket punishment to avert a blanket attack, confusing all of us about whose side the “authorities” are even on, and prompting compounded protests.

Confounding matters: Each “side” tries to blame the media for distorting its message … but who can even tell where media begin and end anymore? The “spin” on the Web is running rampant. I like to think of the news media as on the sidelines, as not having a side … but perhaps that exposes my naivete.

Here are two video messages representing two sides in the BART conflict. First, from “BART TV” — who knew? everyone has a channel! — with its “safety first” and “we’re doing this for your own good,” Brave New World feel:

Compare that to this creepy message from Anonymous:

Here’s hoping Nov. 5 proves a case of Bloggers Cry Wolf … as we bloggers feel especially vulnerable.

Privately, what makes me laugh is: At some level, we are all on the same side — wanting to be safe, free in speech and will, and at times just left alone in peace and anonymity.

(For your sidebar entertainment, here is a man terrorized both at work and in his own home for exercising his free speech right to read: Burgess Meredith, in Part I of a classic Twilight Zone episode.)