11 March 2008

I Strongly Oppose My Recent Behavior

If anything irks me more than a politician's fall from grace it's the now-obligatory and calculated press conference in which said politician takes a strong stand against his own indiscretions - typically with the spouse standing nearby, trying to hide how mortified she feels at that moment.

The word I kept reading online - news reports, blogs, even twitter - in reaction to the latest debacle is "arrogant." It's arrogant to assume the rules don't apply to you. It's arrogant to resist coming clean until the press catches wind. It's arrogant to then walk from the podium, not answering the questions that really matter, waiting to see how things shake out before accepting the consequences of your actions, holding fast to the theory that if you just say the right words and sound just regretful enough, somehow you'll get off the hook.

I also noticed that "arrogant" is the word kicked around most often by Facebook's critics. Of course CEO Zuckerberg isn't being accused of the smarmy kind of hypocrisy we sometimes see from politicians. But the feelings many users have toward this huge company and its unwillingness or inability to adequately address users' concerns are strikingly similar to the ones expressed toward our less-than-stellar public officials.

Beacon was one debacle where the CEO now has to publicly oppose the tactics he proudly promoted only weeks ago. But the SxSW "keynote" interview saw a Zuckerberg who stuck to the script -even when the audience vocalized their serious problems with the staged event taking place before them.

The words Zuckerberg chooses to describe Beacon - "we got a little ahead of ourselves" - aren't the words I'd choose if I were in his position. But even if they were precisely the right words, they're meaningless if his company still resists engaging with users in a more substantive way.

It's also disingenuous to try to take credit - as Zuckerberg did - for the impressive things users do on Facebook. Facebook isn't out there telling people to use their network as a tool for social justice. They're placing ads in the groups using Facebook for social justice. Heck, they're putting "meet chicks online" ads in the group asking Facebook to stop banning pictures of breastfeeding. Facebook is an amazing tool for communicators and organizers, and the company deserves credit for building a relatively open platform. But that's it. If FB keeps insulting users, the thoughtful ones who take social networks seriously will head over to Ning. It's not like FB is the only game in town.

Facebook simply has to engage with its users on more open and receptive terms on a host of issues. The company has to take its lumps, and more importantly, make the reasonable changes users seek. They have to get real about privacy and portability. They have to make it easier to delete accounts if users want to. And yes, they have to stop banning pictures of breastfeeding moms and start banning harmful pro-anorexia groups.

It seems the one attribute you can never afford to have affixed to your reputation is "arrogant." And this company is well on its way there.

1 comment:

Alison said...

I like Ning. Haven't used it too much yet, but I signed up for NaBloPoMo using it, and last night signed up for another community which I'll be using more often.

I'll still use Facebook, because it's allowed me to get back in touch with a ton of old friends.