The Propellant Behind Facebook’s Flames?


A lot—and I mean a lot—has been said in recent weeks about Facebook’s continued push to publicly publish absolutely everything it knows about you.1

This isn’t directly about my thoughts on that, but rather on an interesting observation:

I started using the ‘Net in 1994, when pine was your “user-friendly” interface to mail, gopher still mattered and the web was nascent.2. I’ve been through two dot-com booms3, and seen the “social networking” projects of the day—anyone remember ICQ?4—come, adapt, and if they do it wrong, go.

What I find interesting about Facebook is that fifteen years of using the Internet, seeing all sorts of companies make all sorts of egregious changes to their privacy policies (and general operating policies)6, I have never, ever seen the mainstream media—The New York Times, CNN, Fox News, NPR—nor the government take note of such changes so quickly, cover the story so prominently, prompting the government to involve itself with, for them, lightning speed7.

Facebook’s policy changes are drastic, but they’re not the worst policy changes an Internet company has every made8. Most of those go unnoticed, until it’s too late, and then the momentum behind them leads to “Well, that’s just the way it is now.”

So why are we collectively noticing so quickly this time?

Is it because we’re more “socially networked” these days, and thus coverage of it spreads virally, getting us to take note, leading to protestations that are “louder,” again due to (social) network effects?

Is it because my generation, who grew up on much of this stuff, is old enough to have some influence over the topics to get covered?

My own pet theory is that the executive editors of our nation’s newspapers9 and producers in the media and congressmen and senators are noticing more quickly, asking tougher questions, and taking more action for one reason: their kids.

I wonder if it isn’t a “Web 2.0″ version of “Won’t somebody think of the children?” But this time, the twist is lil’ Joey’s list of the girls10 he thinks are cute are now public to the family’s churchgoing friends. And that photo of lil’ Sally’s trampstamp-that-no-one-knew-about is in full view of everyone (parents, too!)

You can bet the split second after Joey and Sally are grounded for life, parents started asking harsh questions about this “Facetwit SpaceBook”-thing, that they had largely ignored up to this point11. And if you just so happen to be working at some place—a major news network, a nationally circulated periodical, or the federal government— that has a soapbox, you can ask those questions in very public ways, that are extremely difficult for Facebook to just ignore12.

I admit that my suggestion is merely that. Maybe it’s much simpler than that.

Maybe it’s just that Facebook was so successful at convincing people13 to sign up for its services, under the assumption Zuckerberg and Company would respect their privacy wishes, that people with power and influence to effectuate the public consciousness on this issue were screwed over too, and thus have a personal connection to the story.

By not moving an inch to date on the changes they’ve made, Facebook is indirectly and unappologetically telling their customers—even (especially!) if they take the belief they are in fact, the product they’re selling—are just too stupid to embrace the new, post-Facebook world.

Taking a “Daddy knows best” tact with someone who already feels their trust has been betrayed is certainly an… unconventional way to address your users and a huge gamble for Facebook’s management to make.

It’ll be interesting to see how that strategy works out for them.

1 Prevailing opinion seems to be so they can let search engines index it and then monetize it, but others are better suited to speculate on their reasoning.
2 The <img> tag was still the new hotness!
3 And busts…
4 And what a big deal a 5 digit contact number was5
5 Which I had…
6 Verisign, for instance, comes to mind
7 In the form of both lawsuits, regulators sniffing around, and senators saber rattling
8 Adjusted for “inflation,” as it were
9 What’s left of them…
10 Boys?
11 Or hadn’t thought through any of the possible unintended consequences
12 Unlike, say, the ones from their users on their own support forums
13 Even my mom!