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Why Facebook's new feature is creepy, and what that means for Facebook

POSTED: May 25, 2014 12:00 p.m.

Wondering if your crush is in a relationship?
Now you can ask them — on Facebook.
Facebook unveiled its newest feature this week, where users can now ask each other what their relationship status is. Since some users keep their relationship situation out of the public eye, this feature will allow them to privately share their relationship status with a requester.
But it’s also something you can do in person, as Neetzan Zimmerman pointed out on Twitter under the title "Are you single? Asking for a Facebook friend."
The move raises privacy concerns, according to Vanessa Golembewski of Refinery 29. She wrote that with this new feature, people’s relationship status may show another loss in privacy.
“Facebook is always trying to figure us out,” Golembewski wrote. “Which of these movies have you seen? Where is your hometown? Which elementary school did you attend? It's all in an attempt to expand our social networks, but sometimes these questions can feel invasive — and kind of like a credit report. And, today's development is no exception. Now, your relationship status will be on display — regardless of your privacy settings — and a topic for debate among friends.”
Not everyone is against the move, according to Metro, a U.K.-based news organization.
“[S]ome people welcomed the opportunity to ask out single people on the social network and saw the button as the perfect way to do it,” Metro reported. “Although at the moment it appears to only be limited to asking friends.”
And that’s the truth, according to The Huffington Post. Facebook outlined that users who aren’t your friends can’t ask about your relationship status, keeping a level of privacy intact.
“Facebook also points out that you can ignore these requests, and also highlighted that only friends can request this information,” HuffPost reported, “so there is no chance of unknown users contacting you in this way.”
But this "Ask" option may be a little creepy. Lily Hay Newman of Slate wrote Monday that it’s somewhat counter-culture to the “Facebook stalking” culture that has developed with social media.
“This is not how stalking works,” Newman wrote. “In fact, this Ask button is antithetical to the whole notion of covert social media ops. Sure, it's more direct, and it could take the games out of wondering about someone, but there's nothing direct about Facebook profiles. They're the place where we present controlled and tailored versions of ourselves to the world. Come on, people, this isn't the truth zone or something.
But it could be a play by Facebook to get users to engage with each other more and stir up more conversation, Newman wrote. Users aren’t going to fall into that trap, though, she wrote.
“You've failed to realize one crucial thing: Asking someone about their relationship status with no context or warning is incredibly creepy and embarrassing for both parties! Nice try, though.”
Email: hscribner@deseretdigital.com
Twitter: @herbscribner

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