You were with WHO? (the language of Facebook and paranoia)

For the past few years I’ve gone to the Memorial Day parade in my town and taken pictures. This year I was looking forward to it because I had a zoom lens that I wanted to try out. I think I got some great shots and I uploaded them to Flickr without any editing.

I also uploaded them to Facebook – that’s when it got weird.

For starters, this was a public event and others in my town would probably be interested in seeing these photos. I also thought of this post in which Matt Haughey admits to himself that all the photo action is on Facebook, not Flickr. Flickr is a great way to publish your photos, but if you want people to actually SEE them you need to put them on Facebook.

I uploaded the photos on monday and set them to public. I thought something similar would happen to my photos: liking, tagging, comments – and people in my town who didn’t see the parade would get a chance to see it through my photos. And that IS what happened – likes, tagging, comments on my photos that people I wasn’t friends with wouldn’t see if I kept the photos limited to just my friends like I usually do.

But then Facebook got creepy.

You see – Facebook Photos isn’t really about photography. It’s about social events and feeling like you’re part of the club. Facebook Photos were designed for people taking selfies with their friends at a club, or a bar (always with drinks in their hands), or at a conference, or at any social function.

Because – seriously – why ELSE would someone take a photo?! Just BECAUSE?!

When someone is tagged in a photo Facebook says you were “with” that person. It writes that on their timelines. It lets their friends know that you were “with” them – which is technically true. I was within a 500 ft radius of these people: high school marching band members, the color guard, veterans, service men and women, speakers. If they were tagged, I was “with” them even if I don’t know them.

That’s an odd way to phrase things. Imagine that you’re a high school student in the marching band. You check your Facebook account on Monday after the parade and get a notification that you were “with” some guy on Memorial Day. You’ve never met him. All you know is that there’s this guy in town that took photos and you were in them.

Now imagine that you’re that kid’s mom or dad. How does that make you feel?

To be clear, nothing bad has happened, but it crossed my mind because I think if something like that happened to my kid and I didn’t understand Facebook Language, or how Facebook works, or how Facebook lets you know that that somebody else tagged people in that photo, I’d be a little worried.

“But Dan,” you may think, “you WERE with all those people – this is our town and community. We were all together that day. That’s what’s great about living in our town.” A Facebook friend did make that point. She’s right.

But isn’t that a little naive? Maybe it’s paranoid, but the language Facebook uses implies that I was hanging out with marching band kids – from a distance…like I was hanging out in the bushes and tried to integrate myself with the high school social scene. The natural conclusion in this scenario is a very concerned parent coming to my place and going “hey buddy, WHAT THE HELL IS THIS ABOUT YOU BEING WITH MY KID ON FACEBOOK?”

And then Chris Hansen comes out of nowhere.

Saying that these people were “with” me implies that we decided, together, to hang out and spend some time with each other. Rather, I wish Facebook would phrase it like “so and so was in Dan’s photo” instead of “so and so and Dan were WITH each other.”

Doesn’t that sound a little less creepy?