Demos Chiang, Chiang Kai-shek’s Great Grandson, on the Cost of Social Media

Demos Chiang, photo by Yi-Ping Wu. CC BY-ND 2.0.
Demos Chiang, photo by Yi-Ping Wu. CC BY-ND 2.0.

In a interview with Demos Yu-bou Chiang (蔣友柏), who is Chiang Kai-shek’s great grandson and  founder of the Taiwan design firm DEM Inc. (橙果設計), the interviewer asks if he uses social media:

Q:你有 Facebook 或 Line 等社交通訊軟件嗎?

不開,很累,真的很累,而且 Facebook 商業行為太嚴重。我的手機是 4G 可以上網,但所有通訊軟件 、Line 都不使用,只用簡訊。我不喜歡人家可以免費找到我。

Y’s translation into English:

Q: Do you have Facebook or Line accounts, or any kind of social media apps?

A: I don’t use it. It is too much work. Facebook has too much commercial activity. I have a 4G cellphone to get online, but I don’t use the communicating apps like Line except for text messaging. I don’t like it that people can find [or reach] me for free.

There are three parts of Chiang’s response that I would like to discuss.

First, he observes that social media takes “too much work.” This is one of the reasons why I deleted my Facebook account a few years ago. It seemed like I was putting in a lot of time and labor on the Facebook website and mobile app. On the one hand, I wanted to connect with others, create conversation, and share my goings-on while enjoying the goings-on of others. However, it increasingly seemed to me to take a considerable amount of effort to keep up with the information and conversations taking place there. Jennifer Pan goes into the issue of labor that sustains social media networks in her Jacobin article, “The Labor of Social Media.”

Chiang laments that there is “too much commercial activity” on social media. This can be interpreted in different ways. On the one hand, there is a lot of advertising on social media, which is a kind of commercial activity. On the other hand, people use social media as a platform to publicize their work or seek support for their work on social media (another form of advertising). While social media opens new ways of supporting otherwise unfunded projects (such as with Patreon or Kickstarter), the number of such projects that one sees on a daily basis can be overwhelming and seemingly unsustainable.

Another aspect of Chiang’s lament is the unseen commercial activity of tracking and personal information. Social media platforms make money in part through targeting advertising to its users by selling targeted and detailed access to its advertising partners. The more information that a social network can get about its users and the more meaningful that information can be made for the purposes of advertising mean that the social network can potentially make more money by selling a higher value to advertisers.

Finally, the third issue that Chiang takes with social media is that he says, “people can find me for free.” This is important point that I hadn’t really considered when I left Facebook and other social media platforms a few years ago. For Chiang, he is a business person whose time is valuable. Even deflecting questions or offers takes away from his focus and time, which is time and focus he could apply to other endeavors. Social media at its core is about connecting people together. Social media makes it easier for one person to contact another person. Some networks, such as LinkedIn, place monetized barriers in the way of too easy contact, but others, such as Twitter, make contact for public accounts extremely easy. By not being on social media, Chiang places the ultimate old-school barrier to others bothering him, stealing his focus, or taking away his time. Making it so that others cannot simply find you “for free” protects your time and attention so that you can apply yourself to the work and living that matters the most to you.

Chiang’s three points are useful for thinking about what the costs of social media are for you. It involves our labor, out information is bought and sold, and others want to monopolize our time. Consider these things when you sign-up or configure your social media accounts to protect yourself and maximize its value to yourself.

Protect Your Online Privacy and Take the Battle to Facebook’s Turf

All of the recent explosive disclosures about the changes to Facebook‘s privacy policy–something that has been an ongoing and procedural erosion of our privacy (see here for a graphical representation of the changes) by acceptance of their terms of service and privacy policy changes–had begun to make me think strongly about quitting Facebook all together. It can be a time wasting website, and it can give you too much information about some folks who you don’t really want to know that much about. However, it allows you to reconnect with old friends, and more importantly, stay connected with professional colleagues. It is primarily for this latter reason that I have decided to stay on Facebook and take the fight to their turf. The reason that Facebook is so insanely popular is that it facilitates social networking and communication in a a very streamlined and generally snappy website. There are no other players on the near horizon that can do the things that Facebook does that I can switch to and bring all of my friends and colleagues with me. I have pitched my tent in the Facebook frontier, and I intend to fight for my tiny share of profile space and the inroads that I and my friends have made there. It is a good land with a lot of possibilities that I don’t want to give up on just yet. I know that we can use Facebook and protect ourselves, but we will have to be proactive and ever vigilant to the changes instituted by Facebook that may conflict with the way we want to use the service and the way Facebook may take advantage of us using their service. Also, I should note that I have no problem with Facebook making a buck off of my using their service, but I believe that I should not be made into a commodity rather than a potential consumer (via ads, add-ons, etc.). Give me respect as a person, and I will be happy to play ball. As it is now, Facebook sees me and my information as so much stuff to be bought and sold, so I am offering the following tactics (there’s some de Certeau for you guys in the know) to fight back against Facebook’s strategies.

  1. Suit up with an updated version of Firefox. Then, go to Preferences > Privacy > Uncheck all except Clear History when Firefox Closes. Click on Exceptions for Cookies and manually add the domains for the sites that you want to accept cookies from (Facebook might not be one of those sites you want to list).
  2. Yield a mighty sword: Install AdBlock Pro. Inside Firefox, go to Tools > Add-Ons > Search for AdBlock Pro and choose to install it. After installing and restarting Firefox, click on the ABP icon in your navigation bar and choose preferences. Click on Filters > Add Subscription > Choose EasyList to add, and then add Fanboy’s List. You will also want to manually add the following filters one-by-one:
    [Thanks to Andrew and pfc.joker’s comments on Lifehacker for these.]
  3. Store your gear when you’re not using it. When you’re not using Facebook, make sure that you logout. This is probably a generally good rule of thumb when it comes to other sites accessing cookies saved by your web browser.
  4. Secure your stable door. This is where you adjust your Facebook privacy settings. First, go to Account > Privacy Settings. Here, you need to go through each page and adjust the settings. Personal Information and Posts > Set to Friends Only for all. Contact Information > Friends Only (you can allow Everyone to add you as a friend or contact you, but hide your email addresses by setting to Only Me). Friends, Tags, and Connections > Friends Only. Search > Uncheck Allow Public Search. Applications and Websites > What Friends Can Share > Uncheck All. Applications and Websites > Instant Personalization > Uncheck Allow.
  5. Clean up your stable. This is where you cut the new “Connections” that enable the flow of information between you and your friends to companies that Facebook sells your info to. Navigate to your Profile > Info. You have to leave your basic info, but you want to remove all of your interests, likes, education, work info, etc. You may also want to go into your photos and profile pictures and delete anything that you don’t want circulated (this is just good sense). You can use your bio to include the parts about you that you want people to know about. I only include SFRA and IAFA in my Likes and Interests, because these are professional affiliations that I use Facebook for.
  6. Ride off on a new adventure. If you’re really fed up with Facebook, you can create a new account and reconnect with your friends. There is a procedure to follow for this that you can find on Lifehacker here. They also have a nice set of 10 privacy tweaks that will generally improve your privacy online here.
  7. There be dragons in every cave and a troll under every bridge. The important thing to remember is that for every new and creative way of protecting our information and online identity from exploitation, there are corporations out there looking for equally inventive ways to make a buck on the information that we make freely available. Even our browsing habits can be tracked according to the way we configure our web browser (read about a project by the EFF regarding this on Slashdot here). You have to educate yourself about how your software works, and how you can use it to be prepared for unexpected onslaughts against your privacy. Check in on the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Read Lifehacker is good (even though its part of Gawker), and has some good info along with other wonderful things.
  8. Leave your own tips and favorite electronic privacy links in the comments, and let’s let Facebook know how we feel about their new policies before more of our online rights are eroded by big business.

Save Your Privacy, Facebook Connection Block

If it weren’t for the ease of keeping up with friends and maintaining professional connections with Facebook, I would drop it faster than a Centaurian slug. As it is, Facebook has positioned itself as an essential part of contemporary computer technology-enabled social networking. As with so many social networks in the past decade, I can’t imagine Facebook holding on to its vaunted position forever, but it has a firm grasp on most of us for the time being. The unfortunate reality is that we exchange our use of the site for commodification of our online identity, social connections, and personal privacy.

It wasn’t until this morning that I decided to do something about the changes to Facebook had made to my information stored on their site. I knew about the new Connections feature, which allows your data to be available through the Connection links in certain parts of your profile. This also opens your data to dispersal through other people’s profiles who are similarly ‘connected.’ Also, it wasn’t too long ago that Facebook changed how much information was made available on public searches for your name.

It was when I began trying to change all of my privacy settings on Facebook to better control how I wanted my information made available and to who I wanted it made available that I discovered something rather unexpected. I raised an alarm on Twitter about some unusual applications authorized on my account, which I had not authorized–a problem that was discussed on here. I was in the process of deleting these applications from my Facebook profile when my buddy Andrew Pilsch at UPenn sent me a link regarding this ‘bug.’

Not too long after that, Andrew devised and posted an elegant solution to block the new Facebook Connection ‘feature’ or as I like to think of it: the privacy Nazi-death-rape-machine. The basics: 1) Browse with Firefox, 2) Install AdBlock Pro, and 3) Add http://*.connect.facebook.*/* to your filter. Read Andrew’s blog here for the full instructions.

Some related reading for recent Facebook privacy changes, concerns, and protection:

Earlier in the day, I was wondering how some apps got slipstreamed into my account without my knowledge. Andrew directed me to this Macworld article that explains what happened. Using Franken’s instructions below, I stumbled on to this problem that Facebook claims is now fixed.

Senator Al Franken posted some instructions on how to guard your privacy settings from within Facebook here.

The EFF has a nice timeline of the erosion of personal privacy on Facebook here.

And the EFF’s article on Facebook’s Evil Interfaces here is a fun read.