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.
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