Anti-Matter, Anti-Marketing, And How Facebook Is Slyly Turning The Internet Back Into AOL, One SNAFU At A Time

December 7, 2020 uncategorized


Facebook’s privacy “problems” aren’t problems at all – at least not for Facebook.

This week physicists figured out how to bottle anti-matter. And…nobody cared.  What did catch people’s attention was that digital Beatles music went on sale on iTunes.  That’s right, it became NEWS that the top-selling act in the history of popular music, a band that has been a ceaseless cash cow for almost half a century, had music for sale.  Okay, then.  But it was a kind of anti-news.  Everyone yawned.  They yawned and yawned.  They yawned on their blogs, they yawned on their Twitter feeds, they yawned in their Facebook statuses.  I’m yawning in yet another blog post right now.  See me?  YAWN…on a blog!  Seems to me that if you can get people to yawn your company’s name all over the internet, while regurgitating in the same breath the name of the world’s most popular and equally hyped band, you’ve won.  “Look at how boring this is, I simply must talk about it online.” Victory to Apple(s).

The idea of backward-seeming marketing success, the old “no press is bad press” idea, brings me to Facebook, who also can’t seem to lose, and who may have just as clever a marketing department as Apple’s. I told a non-techie friend this week that Facebook headquarters must celebrate wildly every time there’s some online controversy regarding their privacy policies.  It was in the context of a broader chat we were having about Facebook versus the Internet, how Google used to be the de facto internet, but Facebook is quickly moving in on its territory.

I don’t think most non-techies grasp the significance of that, or understand why Facebook might want privacy controversy, and not because of all the free press it attracts – although that is very significant and likely net-positive.  The cause for celebration should be that incrementally, with each privacy SNAFU, the general public’s concept of the internet veers further from its real purpose and nature. This attitude skew is in a direction that will be ever more lucrative for Facebook and (IMHO) ever more costly to the internet.  The public realm internet – a free, open medium with no centralized controlling body – is coming to be seen as a high-risk place, from which one should hide one’s interests and conversations.  As seen in the graphic attached to this post, the very notion of public versus private gets more and more complicated.  Public = risky.  Complicated = scary.  Facebook – a private company which is seizing power over not just social networking, but internet communication as a whole – is coming to be seen as the protecting force against this “threat” of openness.  “The only thing keeping me safe is Facebook” is the implicit assumption people make when their skivvies in a tizzy about some privacy problem.  People now publicize things that they don’t want to be truly public, and rely on a corporation to keep them safe from themselves.  The corporation changes a privacy policy, and the users cry foul. But the flip side of this foul-crying is stunning, if you step back and take a look at it: millions of people are clamoring for a single private company to monopolize the information its users share online.

Fifteen years ago many people considered AOL, a cordoned off private company’s software and network for socializing, to be the internet. As people learned about the web, and as the quantity and quality of web content exploded, AOL’s private corner of the net gradually waned in importance.  People figured out that AOL itself wasn’t the internet, that the internet was a bigger and better thing, and that no private “portal” like AOL was necessary. That sea change was for the greater good, because the broader, open internet provides value to everyone openly, while the walled-off private internet provides value only to its users and to the company controlling and exploiting its database.

Guess which direction we’re heading now, folks?

[UPDATE: Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the Web, does a better job expressing these concerns in his December Scientific American article, Love Live the Web.]

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