Hundreds of thousands of students unite, but for what?

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At 8:47 p.m. on September 7, I thought about deactivating my Facebook account.

Don’t misunderstand this News Feed: I didn’t think about really deleting my Facebook profile and destroying my electronic social network, thereby preventing hundreds of people from knowing that tap dancing in inappropriate places is among my interests. I just thought about deactivating my account.

If I were to actually leave Facebook, I would miss out on the very dialogue of my generation. A dialogue that says, among other things, “When presented with a seeming violation of our electronic privacy, we will unite in throngs!” and “Sorry for the poke — hope it didn’t hurt.”

Had I really quit Facebook, I wouldn’t have gotten to read one of the most formative texts of my college career: “An Open Letter by Mark Zuckerberg.” (It should be noted that his “Open Letter” is significantly more stable than Mark’s first draft, “It’s Complicated.”) In it, Facebook creator Zuckerberg alludes to the uproar his newest venture “News Feed” caused, saying, “We really messed this one up” (emphasis added). It doesn’t matter whether or not you are one of the three-quarters-of-a-million students who joined the official group against the News Feed. What matters is how willing you are to elect Mark Zuckerberg to public office — because that is surely where he will end up in the very near future. After all, he can spread blame around like a practiced politician and still end his statement by signing off with a charismatic “Mark.” What a guy.

But really, “An Open Letter by Mark Zuckerberg” proves a significant point — that our generation united in a common voice, a voice heard by people across the country. People like the staffs of Time magazine and CBS News. People with jobs that involve covering wars and uncovering political scandals. People who understand even less what a poke is.

In a matter of days, hundreds of thousands of college students united around something they felt strongly about — and it made a difference. Even though “An Open Letter by Mark Zuckerberg” states that the News Feed will continue, it will do so with students’ greater control over their personal information. We drew national attention to our discontent and proved that our generation is not an entirely apathetic one. But before we raise our collective fist in the air and yell a mighty Howard Dean-like “Yeaaaahhhh!” — think about it. Unlike the generations of yesterday who stood up for issues such as racial discrimination and women’s rights, our generation rallied around the fact that Zuckerberg took the work out of stalking former significant others.

We can do better than this. We can start by voting.
Let’s take advantage of this new breed of democracy by calling attention to more pressing issues than our online social network. After all, shouldn’t we be fully educated on current events thanks to the News Feed? In his “An Open Letter by Mark Zuckerberg,” Zuckerberg himself even states that, “When I made Facebook two years ago my goal was to help people understand what was going on in their world a little better.” Too bad Zuckerberg thinks the most important thing in a student’s world is knowing that a high school friend joined the club “I <3 Taco Bell!” at 4:19 this afternoon.

Thanks for the try, Mark, but the “news” you tell us isn’t what we need to understand. It’s not what we need to know.

Or is it?

Among the sparsely relevant things Mark Zuckerberg tells us, a few notably discreet pieces of information are truly important for students to know: By logging on, singing a friend’s wall — even untagging drunken pictures — they have presumably accepted the terms-of-service changes that Facebook quietly introduced last month. Among these terms-of-service agreements is that of the Facebook Development Platform. This provides a way for third-party software developers to copy large portions of the Facebook database — portions such as your name, your profile picture, your gender, your friends, your interests, your photos, your hometown location, your current location — the list goes on.

But don’t worry, obsessive Facebook checkers! Team Mark has taken steps to protect your privacy — they have drawn up a “contract” with said third parties. And a contract has got to be binding, right? Wake up, sleeping naive! It’s 1984... I mean 2006! In these days, a “contract” is as about as binding as the relationship status on your profile. The Privacy Policy clearly states that “We have undertaken contractual and technical steps to restrict possible misuse of such information by such third parties, but of course cannot and do not guarantee that all third parties will abide by such agreements.”

If the Israel-Lebanon ceasefire were drawn up that shoddily, residents of Haifa would still be biding their time in bomb shelters.

My friends, prevent yourselves from engaging in unprotected information sharing by cancelling your assumed relationship with Mark and his cohort. (1) Click “my privacy” on the left menu bar, (2) find “everyone” and click “edit settings,” (3) find the check box marked “my information may be used according to the restricted terms of service,” and (4) uncheck the box. Zuckerberg’s assumption that we want to have our information shared is like Michael “Heckuva Job” Brown assuming that all those New Orleanians wanted to be under water.

If nothing else, we have proved that, as long as we stay actively aware of what truly matters in our world, our generation can make a difference. We will unite! We will stand up for what we believe in and see to it that our voices are heard. And then we will poke you.