COLUMN: Reading Facebook at face value

By Emma Claire Sohn

The collegiate social network was completely dismantled last week. Our beloved Facebook received a dramatic face lift that most members found invasive and deceptive.

If you spend any time within a close proximity to this campus, you’ve heard murmurs of the outlandish act. My initial response was outrage, like many of my peers, though not over the perceived infringement of privacy (most Facebook members failed to read the fine print of the agreement they accepted upon registration).

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My frustration was rooted in the reaction of my peers and the media’s resultant response. Time reported on the incident, Sept. 6, calling it “what may be Gen Y’s 1st official revolution.” I found this claim to be shamefully true. My generation, plagued by some of the most detrimental issues in history, has mobilized against a social Web site. And what venue did we use to protest? Facebook itself. In just 24 hours the Facebook group, “Students against Facebook News Feed (Official Petition to Facebook)” racked up 284,000 members, a staggering number demonstrating the sheer power of a demographic that is currently very quiet politically.

This is a disheartening concept for a nation established through protest. The United States has a rich history of rebellion against social injustice. Perhaps some of the most poignant protests were those of our parents generation during the Vietnam War. Yet today, when faced with another unpopular war, our generation is caught up with ensuring that e-friends aren’t alerted when their e-relationship status changes. What has caused this onset of apathy to a generation descended from our fervent parents?

Our current struggle abroad bears an uncanny resemblance to Vietnam in many respects, but differs dramatically in media coverage. The way we receive information has changed dramatically since the Vietnam era news casts of our parents, when families gathered around the television, waiting on edge for their draft numbers to be called.

Today, television news services have almost completely deteriorated into a mesh of celebrity gossip, sensationalized freak accidents and outrageously polarized political debates, on a foundation of ticker tape fleeting across the bottom of the screen. The demise of the classic news cast has been spurred by the birth of the Internet, a tool which our generation accesses and relates to better than any other media source.

And so, it is no surprise that the major revolt of our generation has occurred over an online social network. Facebook literally can be held at face value. An update of someone’s Facebook profile isaccountable. It can be traced back to an original fact, although one of absolutely no consequence. Our generation has found comfort in truth, just as the Vietnam era tuned into their televisions every night listening carefully for draft numbers while watching a perpetual flow of coffins en route home. The Bush administration has denied our generation these images, stringently enforcing a policy keeping the media from releasing images of veteran coffins returning to the U.S. immediately prior to the Iraq invasion. This leaves my generation with no concrete visual evidence of the war.

Additionally the lack of a draft during the Iraq war has caused the fighting to affect a fewer number of American twenty-somethings. The military instead is comprised of a great number of individuals coming from the poor end of the spectrum, a group whose best interests lie in risking their lives abroad in order to provide for themselves and their families.

Is it ridiculous that our revolt against last week’s new face of Facebook may be marked in the books as the major rebellion which defines our generation? Yes. But our response needs to be considered in a larger social context before we are dismissed as apathetic.