Facebook: Conform or else

Robert Scoble, discussing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg:

He also said that his system looks for “outlying” behavior. He said if you behave like an average user you should never trigger the algorithms that will get you kicked off.

Let’s be specific here: if you behave like the system’s Harvard undergraduate founders and primarily-male engineering staff have programmed the software to think like “an average user” behaves you should never trigger the algorithms that will get you kicked off. Except in reality, most people don’t behave that way. Robert is surprisingly sympathetic to arbitrary undocumented limits on speech:

Of course, that irks me a bit because my usage of social media sites is totally outlier behavior. But, I can see his point. One thing that’s nice about Facebook is that I see very little spam or other nasty behavior.

That’s Jon Pincus discussing “Zuckerberg: Facebook to ratchet up exploitation, only bans “outliers”.”

I think this is a real concern. Facebook exists as a means of connecting with others. As I discuss in “ Identities are Created Through Relationships,” we create and evolve our identities through such interaction. If Facebook imposes conformity through secret rules whose violation results in suspension, then it acts as a censor on our social interaction and our willingness to explore and excel.

It’s unsurprising that Scoble sees little spam or other nasty behavior, but free communities have some level of that, or they have a constant level of looking over one’s shoulder for the camera or the plainclothesman. Scoble shouldn’t be ok with that, and neither should we.

They’re trying to dress up giving users the ability to up/down vote on their rules as “democracy,” and giving users a voice but as Michael Zimmer documents, it’s a vote. They haven’t (say) Wikified their Terms of Service and given users real input. They certainly aren’t offering minorities any protection against the wishes of the majority.

What if the entire userbase votes to make everything from a member of the Screen Actors Guild fully public?

It is fascinating to watch the autocracy of Facebook forced to take tentative steps towards democracy. Here’s hoping that their community also pushes for liberty.

7 thoughts on “Facebook: Conform or else

  1. You do realize they are a commercial enterprise and not a government provided facility right? People can play by their rules, go with some pseudo-democracy, or simply choose not to use the service.
    Phrases like “censor on our social interaction and our willingness to explore and excel” are a bit odd when we’re talking about a private enterprise that people can freely choose to associate with or not. Right?
    I understand people are really invested in their facebook persona, but isn’t this talk about liberty taking it a bit far?

  2. Facebook, in my opinion, is a nightmare, particularly regarding privacy. I have zero faith in management’s ability to execute. Their furious backpedaling most recently, and their previous “show my friends what I bought on-line” feature are my examples. They, to my eyes, seem almost comically out of touch. The fact that the propeller-heads can deploy a neural network app to smoke out non-conformists does zero to assuage my concern. Management, it seems, has given up — they now are making crucial decisions based on some sort of user plebiscite. Is there some fancy german word for when you cringe and laugh at the same time? If so, that’s what Facebook induces.

  3. Andy,
    Yes, I’m aware that Facebook is a private entity. Private entities can and do engage in censorship, which is not governed by the constitution. That doesn’t make it right. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to talk about liberty in communities governed by rules other than those created by governments.
    I think Facebook would like to be an online version of society, with everyone participating (and being marketed to) For them to achieve that goal, they’re going to have to be more an online version of society. They’ve just discovered that that might include some form of democracy. I bet it will include more over time.

  4. Being locked out of these online communities can have real consequences, too, as being online becomes the norm. Ben Rockwood recently did a post talking about how LinkedIn is increasingly replacing resumes when it comes to getting high tech jobs. Kind of a sobering thought for someone like me who isn’t big on the whole online community thing.

  5. This is a very interesting discussion on public/private. Altho Facebook is “private,” in the modern technological world, the line between public and private is very different from what it was in say, the 18th century. And Davod Brodbeck makes an interesting point about Linked In, where that site now specifically invites employers to see who a job candidate is linked to on their site. One cannot avoid the computer world these days, unless one is literally a hermit, so the old paradigm no longer works. I’d like to see a discussion on this complex issue continue here.

  6. Why are you surprised by Scoble’s attitude towards outliers?
    I mean, he *was* a mouthpiece for Microsoft, a Giant Immoral Corporation, after all. Giant Immoral Corporation attitudes towards “outliers” must have rubbed off on him.
    As Abe Lincoln once said, “If you lie down with pigs, you won’t get up in the morning smelling like a rose.”

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