The Devil's Advocate: Should Facebook Just Ignore All This Privacy Nonsense?
At the risk of turning this column from the Social Media Insider into the Facebook Ranter, let me close my month-long look at Facebook's (maybe too) Open Graph and ask the devil's advocate question: Should Facebook even listen to the Leo LaPortes of the world, or just look at the numbers -- headed to 500 million users within the next several months -- and continue on with its plans?
You probably know-- if you've read my columns for the last few weeks -- what I really believe, but I began to wonder about this alternative viewpoint after being asked by several mainstream media types recently if this most recent Facebook privacy controversy is going to stop the Facebook juggernaut. And, while things seems different this time since some people -- including Leo LaPorte -- have cancelled their accounts, my answer in all honesty, has to be: "No."
Some numbers bear this out. A "Quit Facebook Day" group, which got running earlier this week, currently has under 6,000 members. Its aim is to have people make their Facebook accounts go permanently dark, en masse, on May 31. Another group, at Facebookprotest.com, only asks users to log off for one day: June 6. It has a mere 1,500 members. Both groups, at least at the beginning, got their share of viral exposure, but neither has exactly caught fire. The fact is that the majority of us are going on just as we were before all this started, despite our threats to go join Diaspora* as soon as it launches. To do the math, if all of the people who have joined "Quit Facebook Day" actually do so, that will be .00001% of the entire user base (based on a current estimate of 450 million users.) That's not something to cry in one's beer about.
So, while on the one hand, I've been critical of Facebook for its tone-deafness in the light of its ever-shifting privacy policies, an alternative position is that Facebook should continue with its strategy of saying the whole thing is no big whoop, and, in addition, that Mark Zuckerberg & Co. are, indeed, doing something good when they allow us to share content with our Facebook friends across thousands of sites, even if it wigs some people out. Facebook's public policy chief, Tim Sparapani, said in an interview yesterday that this was, "an extraordinary gift to the public." Guffaw all you want, but leave open the possibility that, for most Facebook users, this will end up being true.
It's worth noting that, during the same interview, Sparapani said Facebook would be simplifying its privacy settings in the next few weeks. What many of us might have expected was a press conference, a Mark Zuckerberg come-to-Jesus moment - something to accompany the news so many of us have been waiting for. It would have been so satisfying. Instead, it was casually mentioned, and maybe that speaks to Facebook's confidence in its direction instead of what many of us -- including me -- consider its ongoing cluelessness.
Interestingly enough, what Facebook is going through these days mirrors what so many prominent brands go through when people sound off about them in social media: a struggle to figure out who they should listen to, and what the number of fans or "Likes" of groups that have a beef with Facebook really mean. Maybe company strategists looked at the (slow) velocity of these anti-Facebook groups, and realized that, in terms of its plans for world domination, they are much ado about nothing.
What do all of you think? Comment below.