Tag Archives: Robert Scoble

If Facebook is a virtual nation, it’s a tyrannical one

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Earlier this week, we discussed Robert Scoble’s flaming of Twitter’s draconian “death sentence” account takedown procedure. This led to some folks complaining that Twitter doesn’t have an appropriate “appeals” process for account suspensions — as if Twitter was a nation-state and its users were citizens. Indeed, two weeks ago Brad Burnham explicitly said web servcies should be thought of as governments.

Social networks have courted this kind of high-minded self description for years, labeling themselves as “communities” rather than what they really are: businesses. The notorious Socialnomics stat video noted that Facebook’s “population” — if we care to characterize its user base in such terms — would make it the fourth largest country on Earth. Facebook itself has implied its own post-national identity by calling its user policy page the Facebook Site Governance page. This is a code of law, the language implies, rather than a service contract. Welcome to the Facebook Nation.

Except Facebook isn’t a nation. It’s a business.

You’re a Facebook customer, not a Facebook citizen. You have no inalienable rights, except those guaranteed by your actual government regarding privacy and protection from fraud. There is no Facebook constitution except for the Facebook Terms of Service — which Facebook can change at any time provided they give you a self-imposed three- to seven-day heads-up. Facebook graciously promises to put any proposed changes up for a user vote if at least 7,000 people comment on a policy change. That vote will be binding, however, only if 30% of the Facebook userbase votes in the “election.” That means about 150 million people have to vote, given Facebook’s current usage numbers. This is what’s known as the illusion of participation.

My only criticism of the above is that it’s disingenuous. Facebook has every right to run its product to the benefit of its (not yet publicly traded) shareholders. Yet, Facebook would like to be thought of as a virtual nation rather than a business, because it’s more meaningful to be a citizen than it is to be a customer. If you feel like a citizen, you’ll probably stay a customer. This mindset and perception benefits Facebook shareholders, but is in fact a detriment to Facebook customers — because it gives customers the idea they’re entitled to “appeals” and “due process” and a “vote.”

You’re entitled to none of the above.

If Facebook is a nation, it’s a tyranny — with Mark Zuckerberg as the charismatic dictator. You can be exiled from Facebookistan at the whim of the regime. You can be forced to use the local currency and store it in local banks, rather than the neutral third-party cash systems you enjoyed before. You can be forced to use approved state-run media for your business advertisements. And all of this, of course, is termed as a benefit for the glorious people.

Still want to be a citizen of Facebookistan? Don’t think that Twitteropolis is much better, either. And above all, don’t fall for the illusion of citizenship when really, you’re just a customer. And most times, you’re not even a paying one at that.

Facebook owes you nothing. You’re entitled to nothing. Go in with your eyes open to this basic fact. And, above all, I hope you have a backup plan.

Twitter and Facebook can kill you without cause or recourse

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Twitter "Account Suspended" message
Image by .imelda via Flickr

A week ago, Robert Scoble called out Twitter for issuing death sentences without warning, explanation, or obvious chance for appeal. A “death sentence” in this case refers to the complete suspension of a Twitter account, such that the owner can’t log in. Apparently a friend of Scoble’s joked about selling his Twitter account — an action which violates Twitter’s Terms of Service — so Twitter suspended the friend’s account before it contacted him to explain why, or what he could do about it. Eventually, the account was restored, but only because the friend of Scoble gave an explanation that satisfied Twitter. That time his account was down is time he’ll never get back, and there’s no guarantee it won’t happen again.

Short form: Twitter can shut off your account any time it wants, and may only give it back if it feels like it. Addendum: Facebook has an almost identical policy and a history of acting on it.

We’ve discussed previously how rare it is to own a popular Twitter account. Facebook fans have a suggested dollar value, too. Yet these assets can be removed from your marketing portfolio without warning — and often without immediate explanation — for any perceived or assumed violation of terms of service that these service providers can and do change as they like.

Imagine if your phone company behaved in a similar fashion, disconnecting your phone number(s) because it didn’t care for the phone conversations you were having. Of course, that could never happen — and not (just) because of government regulation. You pay for your phone service, so the phone company has a certain financial incentive to care for your business. Facebook, Twitter, and most web apps are free. Zero dollars buys you zero service level guarantees. Never forget that you have access to Twitter and Facebook only so long as it is convenient and beneficial to them.

Hope you’ve got a backup plan.

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