Mr. Zuckerberg goes to Washington
Two weeks ago, I wrote an article critical of Facebook users behaving like victims of their own user agreements. I put forth the fact that user agreements are contracts and as such keep Facebook free for the users under the aspects of the contract.
This week we got a glimpse into the mind of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder.
Last week Mr. Zuckerberg appeared before both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate for hearings on Facebook’s behavior toward its users. Illinois Sen. Dick Durban (D) and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) grilled him thoroughly about the aspects of corporate responsibility and customer/user data privacy. These two senator’s ripped Mr. Zuckerberg apart with two very distinct styles.
Senator Durbin asked Mr. Zuckerberg flat out: "Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?" His responded: "Um, no."
Senator Durban followed up by asking the follow up question. "If you've messaged anybody this week, would you share with us the names of the people you've messaged?" Again Mr. Zuckerberg responded with "Senator, no, I would probably not choose to do that publicly here.”
Senator Durban shot back: "I think that might be what this is all about — your right to privacy, the limits of your right to privacy, and how much you'd give away in modern America."
Senator Cruz went after Mr. Zuckerberg from a different point of view. “Does Facebook consider itself a neutral public forum?”
Mr. Zuckerberg responded: “Senator, we consider ourselves to be a platform for ideas,” The Texan shot back by asking: “Are you a First Amendment speaker expressing your views, or are you a neutral public forum allowing everyone to speak?”
Senator Cruz followed his line of questioning with a statement to Mr. Zuckerberg saying: “There are a great many Americans who I would say are deeply concerned that Facebook and other tech companies are engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship.”
Friends, right there are a few very good reasons to be careful on Facebook. Today’s understanding of free speech is skewed on social media platforms. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can censor you. That’s a fact. The have the legal right.
The First Amendment only prevents the government from censoring your speech. Private business, whose business models revolve around free speech, approach censorship from a business aspect. The ultimate question for companies like Facebook and Twitter seems to be: “Will censorship loose us customers?”
In the end, I’m not sure that the type of new restrictions by Facebook will achieve the goal of information security. I expect it will not be met with resounding cheers from Facebook’s stock holders or users. Facebook has gotten unwanted scrutiny from Congress because it had started to take a defensive posture. Mark Zuckerberg stands out now as an international tycoon whose business venture is the steady pipeline of user information. Business is booming.
Facebook is in the advertising business around the globe. Most will tell you that the key to advertising is happiness. The Facebook users of today are prompted to buy things, or participate in event, because it’s okay to like those things, or buy those products. Facebook sees what the users like and shows them similar items they might like more. Facebook sees what the users like
Facebook’s concept was touted as being the ultimate tool for social interaction. Mr. Zuckerberg sought to make Facebook the only tool for business advertising on social media. Facebook would render results for advertising on its social network. It now sees what the users like and asserts the authority on if the subject meets some criteria to be good for the general community. That’s privatizing culture in a nutshell.
My suggestion to Mr. Zuckerberg is that Facebook should simply sell advertising for products and events without acting as an arbitrator of the common good. This moral posturing of Facebook needs to end. Facebook is an advertising outreach tool. Asserting Facebook as an arbitrator of political safety will secure a privatized political power that no company should have in a republican form of government.
Go back to basics, Mark, your users will thank you for it, and so will your shareholders.