** Update 26 Nov: after two days of trying this I have updated my post. See the bottom of the post for my experiences **
A new way of using Facebook is emerging, mainly amongst teens. It's called whitewalling, and it is when users are concerned about the content posted on to the web about them without their control. With whitewalling, the user deletes all messages, wall posts and comments once they have been read. There is literally no trace of them.
Many whitewallers actually delete their entire Facebook account when logging off and then reactivate it when logging on next.
- No photos, comments or messages appear when the user is offline (think about the impact on offline messaging - ie email - being killed off completely)
- No history of activity, so nothing to see when looking up discussions, activity, photos and chatter (think about the impact on how organisations use the web to research and understand consumer trends)
- Total control and reassurance that nothing nasty will appear online (for people who live their lives online, this is a huge reassurance)
- Users cannot even be found when not online. Their online identity does not exist if they are offline
I brought this trend up with a client earlier this week and they were fascinated at the potential future impact of this trend on the communications function. And now I am too. So I am starting an experiment in whitewalling myself.
I have a new Facebook account, and will be adding the kind of friends to it that I have not been connected to with my main Facebook account in the past - namely the kind of people I do connect with on Twitter and Linkedin. Friend me if you like - my whitewalling Facebook account is here. Here's what it looks like:
I'll let you know how this goes, to see if the effort is worth it and how it changes things.
After two days of whitewalling, here are my observations.
- This is really easy. Deactivating when you log off requires 20 seconds extra. And reactivating takes no time at all. It's the same as logging on. This is nothing for a teen who wants to ensure comments amongst friends don't get in front of the parent / teacher / snooper or stalker / wrong friends / enemies / etc. Everyone they know is on Facebook. Or for the worker who wants to keep their personal and work lives manageable. For the whitewaller, Facebook is essential. Everyone they know uses Facebook, and this is their way of managing security and privacy in a way that Facebook does not facilitate.
- Deactivating your account does not delete your friends or any content. This all springs back into place when you reactivate.
- I'm finding from my new friends that I didn't used to be friends with (I've added them since my experiment) that a LOT of people mix work with pleasure on Facebook. I don't. I share family photos, suffer the embarassment of bad photos, etc. But almost no work-related connections on there. People who share everything however seem to be the people that get whitewalling the quickest. Those that don't get it tend to be people who do not rely on Facebook at all, or those who have a well-managed friend group.
- Broadly speaking, I'm surprised at how simple this is and how good this feels to keep the wall clean, keep my inbox empty and keep my security online. If there's demand from people to do this then social networks must cater for it or suffer. And organisations need to adapt to the white wall of user generated content (or lack thereof).
How to whitewall for yourself. Instead of logging off, do the following:
- Click on Account / Settings
- Click on Deactivate Account (you'll be presented with four photos of friends who will miss you!)
- Select a reason then click confirm
- Type password and confirm with the on-screen code
To re-activate: just log on. It all comes back!