Facebook.com News Feeds Cause Dissent

In the wee hours of Tuesday morning last week, someone pressed a button in the Palo Alto offices of Facebook.com, and inadvertently started a not-so-small revolt.

Led by founder and Harvard dropout Mark E. Zuckerberg, formerly of the Class of 2006, Facebook unveiled a polarizing ‘News Feed’ feature that allows users to track their friends’ actions online.

Instead of the famously simple Facebook interface, users woke up to a detailed rundown of profile updates, changes to relationship status, wall posts, group memberships, and more—a convenient digest of time-stamped information that had been available all along.

Almost immediately after the changes went live, dozens of groups formed to protest them. The medium of choice to fight Facebook? Facebook.

When Time ran an article on the Facebook revolt on Sept. 6, the lead anti-feed group had 284,000 members. As of yesterday evening, the group stood at over 744,000. (The self-proclaimed “Largest Facebook Group Ever” claims 857,087 members as of last night.)

Benjamin Parr, a junior at Northwest who created the group, says he was shocked at the changes and created the group on a whim.

“I think everyone was mad and looking for a group to rally around,” said Parr yesterday.

Ultimately, the mass movement was a success, as a contrite Zuckerberg apologized to Facebook subscribers and instituted increased privacy controls.

“We really messed this one up,” he wrote in his Facebook blog on Friday. The news feed remains, but users can now block information about their actions from appearing in their friend’s feeds.

A number of pro-feed groups have popped up, albeit with comparatively miniscule memberships.

The proliferation of Facebook-related Facebook groups was a testament to the site’s arresting grip on the nation’s college population.

According to United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, in October 2005, 11 million American 16- to 24-year-olds were in college. Facebook has over 9 million members, and nearly two-thirds of the site’s users log on to the site daily, according to Facebook.

Around the Harvard campus, the reaction to the new feature was nearly universally negative. Although every student had a slightly different take, all expressed frustration at the profusion of information about their friends.

“It’s so stupid,” said Matthew P. Bresnahan ’09. “The reason people liked Facebook in the first place was that it was simple. Now you have to navigate through all this crap just to check your wall.”

“It’s in the way of what I want to see—people’s actual profiles,” said Rachel C. Porter ’07.

“The whole point of Facebook is to stalk people, and this is interfering with that,” said Gabriella M.L. Gage ’07.

—Staff writer Sam Teller can be reached at steller@fas.harvard.edu.