Facebook's About-Face: Signs of a Gen-Y Revolution?

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The Facebook face-off ended peacefully early Friday morning. The protested "News Feed" on the social networking site, which allowed users to track their friends' activities, now has an off-switch. By adjusting their privacy settings, users can limit or block friends from seeing their Facebook movements. The curious can still check their friends' profiles for updates, but they now have to do so manually.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the change in an open letter posted on the user’s home page at 2:00 a.m. PST. His 480-word letter was a dramatic change from a blog post written Tuesday afternoon, in which Zuckerberg coolly defended the News Feed feature. Friday’s letter was humbling.

"We really messed this one up," he wrote. "When we launched News Feed and Mini-Feed we were trying to provide you with a stream of information about your social world. Instead, we did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them. I’d like to try to correct those errors now."

Facebook’s quick response is the result of a surprising and spontaneous revolt by the site's Gen-Y users. By Friday morning, more than 745,000 users had joined the anti-News Feed group "Students Against Facebook News Feed (Official Student Petition)." A Northwestern University student had created that group only 72 hours earlier. Similarly, a University of Illinois student launched the web site SaveFacebook.com, and University of Florida students were set to boycott Facebook on Sept. 12, before Facebook made its about-face, following a storm of media attention.

Was the Facebook revolt the sign of growing revolutionary activism among the Internet generation? Not really. Granted, the protests got Facebook to back down: the website modified its News Feed, and students feel that their privacy has been restored. But all the students did was click a button to join an Anti-News Feed group on Facebook or sign the online petition — a protest that took less than a minute. There were no massive demonstrations or a significant boycott. Facebook's membership has continued to increase every day since the News Feed was implemented. And were Facebook itself not the subject of the protests, it's unlikely that the students' actions would have brought such a quick result.

Still, the nation was watching as the students organized at mind-boggling speed, and the week's events further proved how effective social networking sites can be for mobilizing youth. In March, a handful of young Latinos in Texas and Wisconsin used MySpace to organize walkouts that protested pending immigration legislation. Several activist groups like Voto Latino took notice and used MySpace to help coordinate May's immigration rallies, which drew more than 2 million people nationwide.

Since Tuesday, more than 25 advocacy groups have approached the Anti-News Feed facebook group. Its administrators are considering how it can use its sudden fame to support them. "It's cool that people are taking action and will complain about something," says Brandon Nyman, 21, a co-administrator of the group and a student at Illinois State University. "It's just embarrassing that many people will voice their complaints about Facebook while much greater issues go unsaid."