When it’s Not –Your– Facebook Wall – how Facebook Really Works

When AOL users first went to the web in 1994, it took some getting used to. People had trouble defining what was yours/mine/everyone’s. If you send someone a message about your drywall business, have you violated their space, because it showed up in their inbox? If they post that message to a forum, excoriating you, have they stolen your property? The web has seen a lot of upheaval in negotiating what’s mine and yours, and where we can and can’t say what we want, and under what conditions. Social media, like Facebook started that discussion over again, but at least with the background of the previous revolution, the web itself, as a starting place. But it is a revolution, and it can be surprising how different are the conclusions and decisions we’ve come to about social media from what we once knew as the web, and how those rules, as they congeal, have reshaped the web itself.

It’s not that kind of wall: In regard to Facebook, it can be easy to think of your Facebook wall like your inbox, or your AOL profile, or like your personal home page. But even though it has some resemblance to all of those, it’s not exactly like those things – not really, and different rules apply. Your wall isn’t really “your” wall per se. It’s more like a public graffiti space (or white board or bulletin board, if that makes it feel less chaotic) where you have some limited control and leverage, but where you do not have the same kind of control as if you ‘owned’ it, like something made of brick on your own property. It’s not that kind of wall. A summary of four key rules or examples can help clarify this:

Note about terminology: for purposes of this article, we don’t technically mean the “Wall” section of your Facebook anymore, but actually now it’s called the “Newsfeed”. Wall used to be divided into 3 possible tab views (you+friends, you, friends), and you could switch your view back and forth that way. Then they changed it, and split the “Wall” into “Wall” (just you) and “Newsfeed” (friends). So you still get the same stuff, it’s just called two different things. When we say “Wall” here, we’re going to mean actually Wall/”Feed”, which terminology Facebook could easily change again.

Image1. If your friend engages in conversation anywhere, you hear it and everyone involved. If you are friends with someone (Jane), and she comments in any discussion occuring anywhere on Facebook (Peter’s wall), it will show up on *your* wall as well, unless you hide her from your wall. The remarks of anyone that can comment on that discussion (Ryan), shows up on your wall also. Unless you de-friend or hide Jane, you have no say in whether Ryan appears on your wall, even if Ryan isn’t your friend, because Ryan is not commenting on your wall in the first place – he’s commenting elsewhere, and you’re pulling the feed of all interactions of all people (hundreds, potentially) that you’re connected to, and Ryan may interact with any of them in any number of places on Facebook to which he has access. You cannot restrict your friends ability to interact with anyone they want – you can only hide it from your own eyes. What’s nice about this is your ability to monitor and refine your message based on how people respond to your ideas: in exchange for hearing everyone, you get to really listen and learn from everyone too. In the past, media research companies charged huge dollars for that, and small businesses couldn’t afford it – but now even a one person operation can get it for free.

2. If you post to your wall, it’s effectively their wall now. If you are friends with someone (Jim), and you post something to your own wall, it will publish to Jim’s wall, and the walls of everyone you’re connected to, unless he hides you or defriends you. Jim can comment on it, on his own wall, and his comment will show up in that same post on your own wall, and now on the walls of everyone Jim is connected to as well. You have no say in this, and cannot restrict Jim from commenting on his own wall, except by defriending Jim. In this way, content is passed on to involve all kinds of people, and your control over something you post, once posted, is not absolute but limited. You cannot publish to the wall of someone, and stop them from responding to it in some fashion, and thereby automatically sharing it with others – social networking is publishing. If you publishing a book, you can’t prevent a book group from happening, but what’s nice about that is that social media has solved the biggest problem a lot of authors (or marketers or business people) ever had – it has ensured you actually do have an audience – and that initial audience can cause your audience to grow infinitely.

3. If you say something, and have even one friend, anyone can answer, friend or not. If you post something to your wall, on which only some people (your friends) can comment, but one of those people (Julie) shares that content on her own wall, it’s not treated as your content anymore but hers now, and anyone that Julie has friended can comment on it, which will carry it across to their friends to view as well – ad infinitum if people keeping sharing it across their networks. This is how social networking actually works – it’s like a positive social virus. And since any of that discussion appearing on her wall, will appear on anyone’s wall that she’s friended, all of that discussion will now appear back on your wall as well. So if your friend Julie shares something, potentially anyone could comment, and you can’t keep that off your wall except by defriending or hiding Julie. The nice thing about this is that our ideas don’t get stuck in a loop where only likeminded people hear them, respond to them, and they never get improved. In that sense, social media is the greatest innovation in the science of innovating, since the invention of the machine. You put ideas in, and you’ll get some dross, but you’ll occasionally get to clarify and refine your own concepts, messages, or methodologies, because it’s not just democrats reading the Clark County Democrat. Etc.

4. If you say or share anything to anyone, it can travel anywhere, and anyone can respond. Same rule – slightly different reason. If content you post to your wall or in a message is shared (reposted) by someone (John) to a page, not merely to John’s own personal profile, it can be seen by anyone who ‘likes’ that page (i.e. absolutely anyone on Facebook), and also commented upon by them. And it will also then show back up on your wall, with all those comments, because you are friends with John, and it’s John’s activity, unless you defriend John or hide John (and pretty much anyone else). In that sense, anything you say on Facebook should be regarded as, at least potentially, said to everyone and inviting comment by everyone, with the understand that everyone is thereby potentially going to show up on your wall, in one fashion or another. This is one of the reasons Facebook is such a boon for marketing. Now anyone can gain a wide audience. The bigger the audience you want, the less control you have, though, so keep that in mind. The revolutionary thing, now though, is that anyone can speak to the world. Want a wider audience than Obama? It’s just about possible, or soon will be. Why do you think he’s giving speeches in social media? Someone, somewhere, gets it.

There are other similar rules, but the above are a good sampling. In short, what you post, you publish, and you no longer control all discussion of, and really don’t want to, if you want it distributed, and to profit directly or indirectly by that. It can be reposted by anyone who can see it, and commented upon by anyone who can see that reposting, and friends of their friends, ad infinitum, without the other people knowing you, being connected to you, or ever even visiting your wall. And what you place on your wall, technically, isn’t yours anymore, in an absolute sense – it’s published in a public setting – it is now content that can be shared (in portion or via a link, etc.) across layers of relationships, can reap thousands of potential comments by anyone, by travelling through the social networks that Facebook hosts, to involve anyone, friend or not, acquaintance or not, to show right back up on your wall. The only way you could ultimately eliminate that is to be friends with no one and publishing nothing. But these same principles are now true of the web in general, not just social networking or Facebook in particular.

Your wall isn’t “your* wall, in the sense that your living room couch is. You have some forms of limited control of it, but the principle of social networks is that your freedom to post immediately takes away your freedom to censor. Once you say anything in public, the public gets to say anything it wants, and you can work hard to hide it from yourself, but it’s fairly impossible to keep other people from seeing it, and not going to go over well (once they see it) to convey a desire to restrict their response. Imagine a movie you make, but you want to decide who can watch it, and what kinds of reviews they can publish. Anyone (you) can publish anything to an unlimited audience, now, but that’s also true of people who respond to what you publish, and what others publish about what you publish, and so on… infinity.

This is really true of all forms of social media, though in different ways – it’s true of blogging, of tweeting, and even true of static publication of fixed content on the web, even if you password protect it. People are social animals, the web is inherently social, and you might retain copyrights to some material, but even that is mitigated somewhat through Fair Use provisions. Publishing is, inherently, now, a conversation. And even if you limited your publishing to paper formats, they just wind up on the web now, and so pass through all the aforementioned social networks. So two things: 1. this is actually good. and 2. you can actually adapt to it, and be better for it.

The best advice is to develop the most tolerant, and open attitude possible to radically different ideas, attitudes, styles, and perspectives, and the thickest skin possible, because web 2.0 (the social web) is a genie that’s out of the bottle, and it’s never, never going back in. Now we all just have to figure out how to deal with one another. We’ll make mistakes to be sure, and we’ll piss one another off, or give offense, or wish the other person didn’t have a say, but now everyone has a say – no one really gets excluded. Most of us, who have actually built much of our social ethos and political views around the growth of social networking, actually view these changes as the most promising innovation for peace, liberty, and democracy (or progressivism, or whatever you’d like to call the individual empowerment of everyone), since the New Testament.

Now, we all get to live in a community space, and make use of community property. It’s a bit like Central Park in New York City – all of it is for all of us. The recording companies and movie industry, and eventually the publishing industry will one day find it quite clear – the kind of space and property they are interested in are getting redefined in social terms as well. In the future, folks, nothing that matters is merely yours, or wholly mine. Nothing. Not space, and not property. If nothing else, the environmental requirements of human survival will ensure that – including not only ecological ones but also social requirements – the need to accommodate increasing populations with dramatically increased mobility and interests (a result of increased wealth) – without resorting to war, for example. And one day we will figure out that war doesn’t lend us more stability, but less. We just haven’t caught up with the new reality yet. Facebook is one of the social networks that presages those fundamental changes in human society. Make no mistake: the social networking revolution is every bit as significant as the industrial revolution, if not moreso.

And don’t worry about these things – it’s good. It’s OK to have some concerns about privacy, property, and space – we all need some form of that in some doses, but not the kind lavished on us in a pre-industrial, agrarian Old West. We don’t live in that environment anymore and, instead of being scared, the successful will figure out how it can be immensely beneficial (it’s one of the reasons, we’re in this business of social media marketing). Absolute privacy is for someone who never leaves their mom’s basement. Social networks are about entering the world of other, wildly diverse, people. In social media, we give up that one thing that the old way taught us to desire in maximum quantity – control. We just don’t have it anymore. And life will be better, because of that. See you in Facebook, where you’ll find this article, and can like, repost, or comment, and there’s really nothing we can do about it, and we like that a lot.

Note on blocking: there is the ability to ‘block’ the total existence of someone, more or less, except then you will still see some discussion they are in, and even allusions to things from their wall, but a blank space will be inserted for their name, so you don’t know where the original post occurred, and you’ll still see the responses to that person, just not their part of the discussion (sort of like hearing one side of a phone conversation). There may be cases in which this is the right move, but it also means you aren’t really hearing everything that’s being said and, if you care about the potential subject matter enough to be connected to the friends they are talking to, you might actually want to be aware of the other half of the conversation. Still, the feature does exist, and it’s a personal choice.