I won’t be gagged, or tagged and numbered
Won’t have my genes and eyeballs plundered
At my own expense
For a defence
That won’t work
Against a threat
That couldn’t get
They won’t get my photograph, my details, my age
(So long as they don’t log onto my Facebook page)
- Danny Chivers, Risk Assessment
Even before I read Jim Bliss' alarming background information about Facebook - stuff which anybody who ever knows anybody who uses Facebook should read - I was wary. It amazed me activists would sign up so readily to what is the greatest gift the security services have ever received. People who used to be meticulous about PGPing everything they sent now blithely trumpet the stuff they once encrypted.
For all their talk of nutters trying to blow up planes, MI5 and the semi-secret branches of the police watch a far greater number of unthreatening subversives. In the 1980s it was suburban CND groups and trade union officials, these days it's Climate Campers and the like.
Some people have said that the wealth of information involved in social networking sites makes it hard for the forces of darkness to sift through; there's so much noise it obscures the signal. But once they have a target named from whatever source, Facebook lets them be followed like nothing before. No amount of phone-taps or blokes waiting outside your house with notebooks could yield the volume and fine detail that can be readily culled from five minutes on Facebook with your password cracked.
Who knows who, how familiar are they with each other, the precise detail of their political persuasion (what sort of weblinks do they flag up, what links of other people's do they click 'like this' on), photos, times, dates, dates of birth, family background, employment details, the works. It's a cornucopia of data that the Stasi would have creamed their kecks at. And I'm starting to feel left out.
About five, maybe seven years ago it became a severe social impediment not to have a mobile phone. Social etiquette changed, plans were things that could change at the last minute, even made at the last minute, and everyone was up to speed. Except, that is, for the weird types who didn't have a phone, sat there like a lemon at the original agreed meeting point, feeling like the Amish kid who doesn't know what the other kids are raving about when they talk of TV shows.
Large numbers of the kind of switched-on political thinkers who'd have done blogs now just post their stuff on Facebook. Significant discussions that I'd have really liked to be part of have taken place between friends and their friends, all of them assuming that anyone with anything decent to say has heard about it. Last weekend's hilarious mass snowball fight between several hundred people on Leeds' Hyde Park was a Facebook thing. When the Christmas number one can be righteous and a Facebook meme, it's time for us non-users to feel locked out.
Some try to avoid exposure on Facebook by not using their real name and having some witty obscure avatar. It's certainly a tactic that protects bloggers from the ultimate nightmare. It's effective on Facebook too, until your friends use your real name, tag you in photos they upload or spot, and then you respond with all manner of identifying information.
I'm well aware that activist bloggers volunteer a lot about themselves to the security services, and I'm surely no exception. But there's still a sense of awareness, of control, of restriction. I choose which information goes up. I'm not giving every last detail of my life, and more to the point I'm not encouraging every one of my friends to do it either. Were that so, it'd feel very different and pretty wrong. But this is now to be weighed up against the exclusion that non-Facebooking enforces. It's starting to feel like refusing to use a phone or write anything down in case it's intercepted.
I'm already peeking over the shoulders of Facebook users and chipping in to their musings. I can feel myself slipping...