The Uncommon Interview: Ben Parr

By Bourree Lam

When Ben Parr, a junior at Northwestern University, woke up the morning Facebook started its News Feed feature, he decided to take a stand—on Facebook. Parr created a group on the Web site to muster support for his cause, only to find that the group’s membership had soared to 13,000 by lunchtime.

The group, Students Against Facebook News Feed (Official Petition to Facebook), prompted Facebook to adjust the feature. Parr became the poster child for Generation Facebook overnight, featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the online Time Magazine.

CHICAGO MAROON: Why did you start the group instead of simply deactivating your account?

Ben Parr: The group’s purpose was to invoke change. It was a message to the administration of Facebook.

CM: Why do you think that students do not rally in the same manner for more important issues?

BP: Two reasons. One: Students use Facebook as a tool. Clearly the issues for this are close to people on Facebook, and therefore you can expect a lot more reaction for Facebook on Facebook. Two: This is a new issue with a flash point. With issues like AIDS, there is no immediate change nor specific event people can point to. With Facebook, immediate results can be achieved and seen, and that’s not always the case.

CM: The group discussions were also pretty interesting. What do you think about the discussion topic, “Rate the person above you as sexy or I’d fuck,” which generated over 57,000 posts?

BP: If I could delete some of them I would, but I can’t. The only way to remove discussion posts is to remove the discussion feature altogether, which I don’t want to do. And I support free speech, even when it is out of context and idiotic.

CM: How do you feel about all the media attention you’ve been getting?

BP: It’s dying down, and it’s nice to not have to worry about the phone ringing everyday. The mission of the group has been accomplished, and it’s nice to have time to eat.

CM: How have your friends and family been reacting?

BP: It’s surprising how many people recognize me from my Facebook picture. My sister, another administrator of the Students Against Facebook Newsfeed group, has also been getting lots of recognition. My parents have no idea what the hell happened.

CM: Any love letters or death threats?

BP: No death threats, just little hate mails. Lots of “you’re awesome.”

CM: How did this affect your Facebook life?

BP: By the end I had about 800 new friend requests from people I didn’t know. Since I didn’t know the people personally, I denied them all. I’m not into clutter.

CM: Do you think this will affect your real social life?

BP: Possibly. I consider this my 15 minutes of fame.

CM: What’s up with the kitten in your Facebook profile picture?

BP: That’s Tiger Lily, who was born a couple weeks before I left . It was the picture of the day. I don’t change it very often; I only used Facebook about once a day before this started.

CM: I heard you’re writing a novel.

BP: It’s something I’ve been working on since high school. It’s a science-fiction novel about two special operatives who are betrayed by their government and the conspiracy theory that lies beneath.

CM: Any particular inspiration for this plot?

BP: Just a vivid imagination. It’s a side project; right now it’s about 400 pages and the only thing missing is the ending. Eventually I might try and get it published.

CM: Will you do any work in the future related to the Facebook News Feed issue?

BP: I don’t know. I’ve never been about student action or protests in the first place because I don’t really think there is anything to protest. I’m a conservative so I haven’t had much to protest about.

—Bourrée Lam