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Why I Don’t Like Facebook May 22, 2010

Posted by Bernard Lunn in social networks.
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The media frenzy about Facebook privacy has reached a ridiculous stage. It started with a backlash against Facebook. Then just this week we see tech blog A-listers start the backlash against the backlash. I have even seen a backlash against the backlash against the backlash (which means “Facebook messed up”).

I have never been a Facebook fan. My writing has been consistent for years on this score. So now that it is a headline story, I needed to think more deeply why I don’t like Facebook. There are three things that bug me at at visceral level.

1. Facebook represents a really old-fashioned and cynical Madison Avenue view that you can never underestimate the stupidity of consumers. This is such a wrong view and so totally counter to the Internet which empowers everybody in deep and meaningful ways. What upsets me about the Silicon Valley consensus is that this view seems to go deep. That is so far from the what has made Silicon Valley so great. The view seems to be that “we are smart enough to figure out Facebook privacy settings but the masses don’t care, this will blow over, the 500 million plus users will be oblivious”. That is just yech! It is Brave New World come to life. Except that it won’t come to life. People are NOT sheep. Pre-Internet, people might not have had access to the data to be informed. All the elites need to understand this: the toothpaste is out of the tube. Or, as the Who sang “won’t get fooled again“.

2. If you preach living in public, you need to live in public. The stories about Mark Zuckerberg and ConnectU as well as old text messages indicating a lack of respect for users are “yellow press journalism”. But the Valley elite who say “that is not fair” miss the point. The old standard that many people grew up with was, “before taking this action, would you be happy to have this story on the front page of the Times?”. That is a higher standard than a legal standard. Many people may say “that is unreasonable, I am a private person”. OK, but if you say “live in public, so I can make money from that” you need to live by that standard.

3. Their mission is so far-reaching that their leaders need to work to a different standard. Think about the generational missions:

a) Microsoft: a PC in every home/office

b) Google: organizing the world’s information

c) Facebook: owning your personal communication.

That needs leadership that everybody can trust in the deepest sense. It is unclear who can provide that leadership. But Facebook has clearly not lived up to that standard.

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