No, we haven’t yet figured out the literal significance of those five names that showed up beneath everyone’s Facebook search bar Tuesday. Facebook claims that it wasn’t a list of the people who search for you the most, nor was it a list of the people you search for. Supposedly, it was just Facebook’s guess as to who were the “most important” people in your life. Whatever that means, the more interesting thing here is the way people reacted. Here are some lessons to take away from all that frantic speculation, list-comparing and general titillation…
- We’re egotistical. Somehow, when news of this “glitch” got out, the assumption was that we were getting a glimpse at a “stalker list” — that is, the people who most regularly look at your profile. It’s a lot more likely that those five names were determined by some algorithm that takes into account your searching and clicking and wall-posting. But still, it was thrilling for a moment to believe that all those people you had been scrutinizing had been scrutinizing you back.
- Some people still pretend that their profile info is supposed to be “private.” All those creeped-out reactions — “eww, I don’t want THAT GUY looking at my profile” — just don’t make sense: Your Facebook page is meant to be looked at by everyone on your friends list. Accept it!
- The real privacy danger with Facebook is the one nobody talks about. Those warnings about employers, advertisers and cops looking at your profile seem overcooked: It’s pretty rare for the content of any intelligent person’s profile to be all that damning anyway. No, Facebook’s potential for creepy, life-ruining privacy violations is in the way the website secretly tracks how you use it. It’s a lot more awkward for your ex-girlfriend to know how often you look at her photos than it is for your boss to find out that Showgirls is one of your favorite movies. The search-bar gaff on Tuesday raises the issue that Facebook pays attention to how you spend your time. The fact that Facebook’s programmers so quickly disabled the feature once suggests that they realize they’re treading on dangerous ground by collecting that kind of information.
- Facebook matters to us. A lot. The entire experience of having everyone I encountered on campus talking about this thing was really bizarre: It only took a few hours for word to spread that there was some new feature on Facebook that might mean something. We didn’t even know what it meant. Most of the people I talked to said their list didn’t make complete sense by any measure they could think of: While best-friends and secret crushes showed up on people’s lists, so did totally random semi-friends. Of course, we were interested for all the reasons listed above (egotism, self-consciousness, privacy concerns, plus just good old fashioned gossip-lust). But still, I can’t think of anything other than Facebook that could spark so many people to start talking about their personal lives at the exact same time: All at once, we had a new parlor game, focused on figuring out who we spend our time caring about and why.
That’s probably a lot more than needed to be said about this topic, and yet there’s probably a lot more that could be said. Anyways, check this Gawker post to go deeper down the rabbit-hole and find out how Facebook ranked all your friends.