Should You Ruin Lives with Facebook Search?

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Facebook search can find a lot of cool things, like every photo you've liked, friends who share interests, friends who share restaurants, and maybe even your next wife! (?) But it could also completely destroy someone's existence. Should we?


The threat here is very basic: people (perhaps yourself or someone you know) liked things on Facebook. Lots and lots of things. They've added information about themselves over the past half-decade that's been buried until now—our clicks were fossilized. But with the new search, it's possible to dig things up with so much ease, it's like telepathy. Creepy, threatening telepathy, depending on who you ask—if you unearth something someone forgot about herself but voluntarily disclosed long ago, is it a privacy violation?


We'll leave that face-stroker for another day. For now, let's be practical: you can find dirt on Facebook people like never before. Dirty, dirty dirt.

Some damning examples for you to plug in:

  • My married friends who like OkCupid
  • My male friends who like Hot & Naughty Teens
  • My friends who like pictures of wives of my friends

Or forget friends—what about simply "People who have jobs in United States and like PORN XXX Models"? That query yields so many results that Facebook can't keep track.


If you get results for any of these things, is it indisputable evidence of something? No. But should you tell someone anyway? Quite possibly.

It Isn't Like IRL

Just because it's using a dazzling new search that works faster than a crack team of ten human researchers on a caffeine drip, Facebook search isn't above or beyond regular Life Rules. In fact, it's a hell of a lot tricker than real life.


Facebook provides zero context. Zero. There's absolutely no way to tell if your friend's boyfriend liked something five years ago, yesterday, ironically, or not at all—maybe their asshole roommate did it. Going to your friend saying her boyfriend likes OkCupid on Facebook is going to cause an electrical hell-storm of an argument. And possibly (probably?) for nothing. Who knows what any of us did when we were single, and free, and foolish, living outside Facebook search's all-seeing eye. These are the kinds of fights that can end in breakups for no reason at all.

But racism? Yeah, bring up racism. Bring up racism, and sexism, and anything for which there might not have been a time when it was OK. Liking the KKK headquarters on Facebook wasn't OK just because he was in college.


But destroy bigoted strangers, why not

For the same reasons it's probably unwise and unjust within your own personal sphere, assuming the worst of strangers and penetrating their careers and families is rash. But racism, sexism, and homophobia? Fire at will. If someone is spreading hate in the world, will that world be better off if you send an anonymous message to their employer? Probably not. Will it mean one less horrible person with money to spend? Maybe. Will it inflict suffering upon the life of a stranger? Probably. Will it make you feel better? Probably not. Can you live with yourself after? Maybe!


But once you've got the power to uncover bad people, it's going to be agonizing to resist taking effortless shots at strangers you instantly hate.

User Manual is Gizmodo's guide to etiquette. It appears as if by magic every Friday.