Inside the Backlash Against Facebook

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Generation Facebook is taking action — against Facebook. On Tuesday morning the popular social networking site unrolled a new feature dubbed the "News Feed" that allows users to track their friends' Facebook movements by the minute. For many of Facebook's 8 million-plus student users, it was too much. Within 24 hours, hundreds of thousands of students nationwide organized themselves to protest the new feature. Ironically, they're using Facebook to do it.

The feature in question appears on the user's home page and looks like a glitzy laundry list. It chronicles every action a user's friends have recently taken on Facebook. These include the mundane: Sally befriended Joan, the boring: Tim now likes The Daily Show, and the juicy: John and Beth broke up. And in case it matters, each action is time-stamped to the minute.

By its nature, News Feed is intrusive, and that's what upsets students. It's one thing to casually check out a friend's updated profile between classes. It's another to be unwillingly inundated with each friend's latest Facebook antics. The News Feed does not have an off switch, although users can block or limit non-friends from seeing their profiles, which feed directly into the News Feed. At the very least, the aggrieved students want the option of a News Feed off-switch. Some want Facebook to do away with it completely.

Since Tuesday, a handful of anti-News Feed groups have sprung up on Facebook. The largest has 284,000 members and is called "Students Against Facebook News Feed (Official Petition to Facebook)." The group was created yesterday morning by Ben Parr, a junior at Northwestern University, who was disgusted to find the News Feed when he logged into Facebook. With a meeting to get to, Parr quickly created a group, told a few friends about it and left his computer. When he came back a few hours later, the membership was at 13,000 and the numbers climbed steadily throughout the day, reaching 100,000 at 2 a.m — at which point Parr called it a night.

He isn't certain why his is the most successful anti-News Feed groups. "It's might be that mine was one of the first groups," said Parr, 21. "That, and my group acts as a petition directly to Facebook." Included on Parr's group is a link to Facebook's customer support page where users can email Facebook administrators directly. Parr also linked to a formal online petition which asks Facebook to either remove or modify the News Feed. It currently has more than 28,000 signatures.

Several college newspapers also picked up the story this morning. Headlines include "Facebook is watching you," "Furious with Facebook" and "Facebook fumbles with changes."

Despite what may be Gen Y's first official revolution, Facebook is holding firm. Yesterday afternoon, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted an entry to Facebook's blog titled "Calm Down. Breathe. We Hear You." Zuckerberg acknowledged that many users are not "immediate fans and have found them overwhelming and cluttered. Other people are concerned that non-friends can see too much about them." He did not announce any changes to the News Feed, but rather reiterated Facebook's privacy features and promoted the News Feed as a cool way to "know what's going on in your friends' lives."

Like it or not, Facebook's face may be changing for good. The social networking site, which was originally an exclusive website for college students, has expanded to include high school students and corporations. Sponsors now spend thousands to advertise on the site and politicians are also tapping into Facebook. For Zuckerberg, the News Feed allows Facebook users to better keep up with each other. "All the most interesting stuff that's going on is presented to you," Zuckerberg told TIME recently. "The analogy would be instead of an encyclopedia, it's now news. We're emphasizing what's going on now."

That level of intimacy may be too intense for even today's college students, many of whom have infamously posted pictures on Facebook of underage drinking and drug use. Or it could be something much simpler than an alleged invasion of privacy. "Every action I take on Facebook is now time stamped," says Erik Ornitz, 18, a Brown student who formed his own anti-News Feed group. "It's a little strange because everyone will now know that at 10 o'clock I updated my Facebook profile and that I wasn't in class." Regardless of its intentions, one thing is for sure. Gen Y has unexpectedly found a way to organize.