Facebook Graph Search: Human Nature vs. Human (P)reservation

As perverse as it sounds, the Facebook Graph Search is a test to see whether Internet users will willingly sign away their privacies, to see whether preservation and reservation will finally take grip.

Updated - June 15, 2016 03:28 pm IST

Published - January 21, 2013 02:22 pm IST - Chennai

FOR COIMBATORE 30/12/2012: 
Just like their Delhi counterparts, the Coimbatore City Traffic Police will soon open a Facebook page to interact with the  residents here.
PHOTO S_SIVA SARAVANAN

FOR COIMBATORE 30/12/2012: Just like their Delhi counterparts, the Coimbatore City Traffic Police will soon open a Facebook page to interact with the residents here. PHOTO S_SIVA SARAVANAN

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Facebook’s >latest search – touted as everything from its third pillar to its final attempt at making the social-networking leviathan monetizable – is a marvel of Frankenstein-ien proportions.

It is a technological marvel for the simple reason that it finally provides real life with a search function. By tapping into its user’s interests/likes, it provides a personal search; something Google still hasn’t managed to do. While it still doesn’t help one find a missing sock, it gives data analysts and advertisers something to do with the massive load of steaming information that the Facebook/Twitter/Blogosphere-machine has crapped out over the last four years.

The big thing here however, as usual, isn’t the actual graph search – or even the fancy searching per se. The crux of the matter as taken from Facebook’s advertisement, are the final words of its tagline: “Explore your world, find more of what you’re looking through your friends – and meet new people too.”

“And meet new people too.” This sentence is what will ultimately decide Facebook’s relevance in the next ten years. An almost make-or-break for the company. It is also, curiously, a dipstick intelligence test for the urban middle-class netizen. As perverse as it sounds, the Facebook Graph Search is a test to see whether Internet users will willingly sign away their privacies, to see whether preservation and reservation will finally take grip.

Greet, then meet

To understand this, we must head to the history textbook. Facebook was initially envisioned as somewhat of a dating platform, which got swept under the rug pretty quick. Throughout the history of Facebook, meeting people has been very unusual.

How Facebook usually worked was: See/meet in real life—> Add as Facebook friend.

With ‘graph search’, the social-networking website is trying to turn this equation around. The paradigm will witness a shift in such a way, through finding new interests, that meeting new people will become a viable goal of going on Facebook.

How is this make-or-break for Facebook? It could lean two ways. One, this becomes a success (meeting new people, yay!) or two, it makes Facebook essentially ‘Stalker Central’.

Personally, the second option seems more certain. It weighs against the social nature of human beings, mainly because people hate being bothered by strangers on Facebook. It is generally weird and creepy and becomes doubly so if you are a guy contacting a girl. It could be seen as a disincentive to share if you don’t want your face popping up on search results for people outside your immediate network. And indeed, this decision was made last month by Facebook, no doubt paving the way for Facebook Graph Search. >One can no longer hide ones profile from the search function.

The Frankenstein part to the equation? What would happen when our fringe radical political class decides to try a search for “people who hate the Gandhi family, people who hate the Congress party, people who are atheists, people who support cross-religion marriage?”

Fill out your details, the spider said to the fly

Facebook Graph Search will work well if and only if people fill out an increasing number of details on their profiles; what your preferences are, your likes, your sexual orientation, your religion, your political views.

This is why it will be a determining test of intelligence for the Indian netizen. There are a great number of people who might have made the mistake of thinking that personal sections of their profile would not be publicly visible by default – or were relying on the obscurity of only friends to look them up.

It could even be that most users made their accounts years ago and haven’t kept up with the ever-eroding privacy on Facebook that requires one to go back and re-specify as private some things that used to be private by default. One can no longer even use it as a ghost profile, merely lurking and enjoying the drama for you are now at the mercy of your friends, who can tag/upload data concerning you, easily searchable.

The major point being here is that, with this new search – it has never been easier to search for the masses, based on one common trait.

And we can no longer call the country we live in one in which Facebook-policing does not exist. Whether it is opposing Bal Thackeray, or disagreeing with >Air India and its trade unions – a lot of people are going to find out what the Facebook Graph Search really means. What will win ? Our social nature to keep serving up our private information in a bid to continue enjoy connecting – or a sense of preservation and reservation?

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