Last night Mark Zuckerberg was quoted for saying that “beacon makes Facebook less commercial.” Immediately, there were a number of people including Duncan Riley who said that this was probably the dumbest thing Zuckerberg could have said. The reality is that Beacon does in fact make Facebook more commercial. I understand that Zuckerberg most likely meant that it makes Facebook less commercial than competing social networks but it didn’t come off that way.
Today, Tom Hodgkinson proclaimed that he despises Facebook. He has a point. On the other hand, Hodgkinson says that the Facebook backers “have a clearly thought out ideology that they are hoping to spread around the world.” Suddenly Facebook has become a conduit for spreading capitalist ideology. I think that may be a side effect of the site but to suggest that the intentions of the founders and backers is to spread capitalism is a bit ridiculous.
Isn’t capitalism inherently viral? I mean if you think about it, vanity is somewhat viral as well. Whoa, maybe I should avoid having this turn into a communist blog. Hodgkinson has concluded that Peter Thiel is using Facebook to spread a mix of neo-conservative and libertarian values thanks to his affiliations with TheVanguard.org. Hodgkinson continues,
Clearly, Facebook is another uber-capitalist experiment: can you make money out of friendship? Can you create communities free of national boundaries – and then sell Coca-Cola to them? Facebook is profoundly uncreative. It makes nothing at all. It simply mediates in relationships that were happening anyway.
On and on Hodgkinson goes, where he stops nobody uh … well he actually stops at the end of the article but you know what I mean. The article winds up twisting into a regurgitation of the Facebook conspiracy theory that we’ve heard before connecting the dots back to In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital company. Hodgkinson does have reason to be concerned and I can speak from experience when I say that there is an interesting feeling floating around these Facebook conferences.
Ultimately we have a lot of technically savvy individuals (myself included) helping to promote the growth of the largest personal information database in the world. Is this wrong? I don’t think so. I think we have much more to gain from the system but that comes from an unspoken trust I have in the Facebook organization. Hodgkinson claims “We are seeing the commodification of human relationships, the extraction of capitalistic value from friendships.”
Yet again, is this wrong? I don’t think so. Some people choose to stare aimlessly into their televisions (sometimes I do as well) and that’s how advertisers reached their audience. Facebook caters to our desire to spend much of our time connecting with other people. Why shouldn’t they make money from that? Facebook will continue to try and cross the line and it is our duty to constantly question their actions the same way we do of any other company and even the government.
Facebook has the power to do plenty of good through helping us maintain relationships and foster new ones. Information can always be used for good or bad. We should hold these companies to high standards and for the most part that should theoretically result in a net positive effect. Do you think Facebook will conquer the world and help big brother monitor us? Doesn’t big brother via court order (where we are not present to defend our rights) already have access to most of our private information?