Pleasant surprise this morning! Cup of coffee, email, the "paper," and then over to Facebook to find an announcement of new Privacy Controls blazoned across at the top of the screen.

So, I took a look, a close look.  I'm glad to say the new controls are a significant improvement. Controlling who sees what information is simple and direct. You can easily control how applications and websites access personal information. You can easily turn-off "instant depersonalization" so that partner sites, like Yelp and Pandora, don't access and display FB info. And they promise that nothing will change going forward.

All in all they've heard the complaints and their response is pretty good. But there's still a problem; they also make suggestions and give advice. Please don't listen to them! You really need to ignore their recommendations because they come from their notion that the way to have a more social experience is to have less privacy.

Pitting private experience against social experience is psychologically misguided and potentially dangerous.

Misguided because the social experience of sharing requires that there be private information and experience to share. Privacy is actually a pre-condition for social experience. Merging is not intimacy; the borg are not more social. In fact, the more privacy you give away the less social you can be.

Dangerous because Facebook has become routine. It has become something "everyone" uses. Even someone like me who spends (perhaps too much) keyboard time complaining about the service uses it routinely. Some, like Danah Boyd, have raised questions about regulating it like a public utility. All this routine use will inevitably have massive, albeit subtle, effects on how we feel about ourselves and relate to each other.

Consider, just as an example of potential for danger since the data on cohort effects is still emerging, a recent research study

presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, [that] analyzes data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years."We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000," said Sara Konrath, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research. "College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait."

via Empathy: College students don't have as much as they used to.

What Konrath did along with co-investigators U-M graduate student Edward O'Brien and undergraduate student Courtney Hsing was combine "the results of 72 different studies of American college students conducted between 1979 and 2009." What the drop in empathy they found means is that,

Compared to college students of the late 1970s, the study found, college students today are less likely to agree with statements such as "I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective" and "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me."

via Empathy: College students don't have as much as they used to.

When the investigators were asked to explain why there was this drop in empathy they appealed for more research and cited social media as part of a potential explanation for why empathy is declining.

The recent rise of social media may also play a role in the drop in empathy, suggests O'Brien. "The ease of having 'friends' online might make people more likely to just tune out when they don't feel like responding to other's problems, a behavior that could carry over offline," he said. Add in the hypercompetitive atmosphere and inflated expectations of success, borne of celebrity "reality shows," and you have a social environment that works against slowing down and listening to someone who needs a bit of sympathy, he says.

via Empathy: College students don't have as much as they used to.

So, the bottom line on the new privacy controls is that Facebook fixed some glaringly insulting assaults on private information—good for them—but they are still perpetuating the misguided and potentially dangerous notion that social experience is to be bought at the expense of privacy.

About the Author

Todd Essig

Todd Essig, Ph.D., is a training and supervising psychoanalyst at the William Alanson White Institute with a clinical practice treating individuals and couples.

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