Facebook profile’s new look: Good, bad & what to do about it

The pluses and minuses of the way users’ information is presented on the new profile suggests some talking points for a discussion in what I hope is an ongoing parent-child conversation about how to get the most out of the social Web.

By Anne Collier

I have mixed feelings about the Facebook profile facelift announced this week: On one hand, it’s harder to fake, I think, strengthening the site’s “real name culture” and to some degree user accountability. On the other hand, it seems to encourage people to share more information about themselves (Facebook’s stated mission) and to put the surface of who we are even more front and center. “Instead of starting off with a long list of your latest status updates and posts by friends, your profile now leads off with a quick, bullet-point summary of your life: job, education, family, birthday, current city, hometown and so on,” the Washington Post reports, with your profile photo much bigger and lots more emphasis on photos you’re tagged in and friends in general. “If you click on a friend’s name, you can view your relationship with that person including all of your interactions on Facebook going back to the time you became Facebook friends,” reports my ConnectSafely.org co-director Larry Magid in the Huffington Post.

All pretty innocuous at first glance, but what does it emphasize? This may be a conversation to have with our children, the one we all have at reflective times in our lives: that they and their friends are not merely the sum total of these bits of information and images of physical appearance. Most of us learn this through experience, but in the digital age, young people are exposed to so much social and personal information about so many “friends” that I don’t think they have time to gain that experience and apply the wisdom it brings to the onslaught of superficial information they face (and quite naturally enjoy) every day. That’s what parents and educators can help with – and are more needed to help with with each Facebook update, it seems to me (see “Parenting & the digital drama overload” and the good question asked in this 1-min. video). These are reasons why it’s so important that we not jeopardize the ongoing perspective-providing conversation we need to have with our kids by overreacting to what we see in their profiles and in scary news stories about the worst abuses of the social Web. We need to keep the conversation going!

Related links

* See Larry’s step-by-step instructions on how to make the new profile display the information to fit your comfort level and privacy settings, which Facebook says aren’t changed at all with the update.
* Very apropos to this subject, I think: Canadian educator and founder of the award-winning Bullying.org Bill Belsey and his middle school students have started exploring the question “What is the future of friendship?” See their Web site about that – I’m looking forward to the survey results!
* Important to think and talk about: The tagline of the Windows Mobile ad, “Be here now.” Here’s a link to that video again

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