It's Time To Break The Cycle, Facebook

I love Facebook for having connected to me to so many lost friends, allowing me to discover new links and funny videos and even forcing me to think about finishing the sentence Anastasia is…on a daily basis. Since I have visited their offices and am friendly with someone who works there, it’s hard for me to say I don’t trust them, yet unfortunately, it’s easy for me to see how many people feel this way.

They say history is an important teacher—if only we could learn from our mistakes. Facebook seems to have fallen into a pattern, similar to your girlfriend who keeps dating unavailable men or the nice guy who keeps getting taken advantage of, Facebook keeps overreaching and underestimating the impact on its users.

It started with the newsfeed, which ironically is now the most popular feature on the site and has been copied by most other social networks. They launched the newsfeed with no ability to control whether or not your actions were shared with friends. After users went nuts, they built in the ability to share or hide what shows up in the newsfeed. This was followed by Beacon, which also passively opted you in to sharing your purchases made through Facebook advertisers. When people were horrified that their guilty pleasure movies or engagement ring purchases were broadcast to the world, Facebook was again forced to take three steps back.

This week it was their new Terms of Service (TOS), which after another wave of user backlash has reverted back to its old TOS (MediaPost, reg. required).  One of the lessons I learned from my last job was that while this generation is happy to illegally download commercial music or video, put copyrighted images on their blogs or mash stuff up, they don’t like it when commercial entities assert any rights to their stuff without paying for it—especially rights in perpetuity to exploit their stuff for commercial purposes. Even if in return, you’re getting an amazing free service or have a shot at being on TV.

Whether it was Mark Zuckerberg or an overzealous lawyer who most likely had a background in traditional media/entertainment, who was behind the new terms, phrases like “rights in perpetuity” and “exploited for commercial use” raise big red flags in a world where everyone is now a publisher or content creator.  Once these flags were raised, other Facebook users who may have been made weary of the service after the original newsfeed launch and then Beacon, just got nervous, and may have felt like, once again they were being opted in to something without their awareness or control. Especially newer older users who are concerned about privacy and are still getting used to sharing anything online.

As for most teens and college students on Facebook? They don’t read the TOS and probably would have continued using Facebook in the exact same way even if the site didn’t revert back to its old terms. Sure, they might have joined a group or two against the terms, or complained in their status as a way to show they’re aware of the issue, but unless they are in that blogger/photographer/filmmaker crowd posting content that doesn’t involve their party pics or links to viral videos on YouTube, I don’t think they would have terminated their accounts or stopped posting. Still, I’m glad this happened if only to once again remind teens that what they post online is permanent if nothing else.

If I was a therapist and Facebook was my patient, I think I would say, “it’s time to break the cycle.” Instead of acting quietly, then explaining, then apologizing and reverting or changing, listen to your users first before rolling anything out, not your investors or your lawyers.

2 Comments

  1. ChrisDuncan

    I agree that facebook made a mistake—but I’m confused as to why you focus on young users’ supposed naivety or inaction.  Apparently, the strategy worked since they’ve reverted to the old TOS.  Why is it that only young users get a tongue-lashing for not immediately quitting facebook?  Hardly anybody reads TOS/EULA’s from beginning to end.

    The facebook TOS aside, would you give ANYBODY the rights to your personal information/content/likeness in perpetuity?  I seriously doubt it—even if you had the opportunity to use an “amazing free service” or had “a shot at being in on TV”.  That’s not a very fair trade.

  2. anastasia

    Hi Chris. Sorry was posting a comment from my phone and decided to repost this one with more clarity.

    No tongue lashing intended.

    I was being sarcastic when I said “amazing free service” or had “a shot at being in on TV” and apologize for that not coming through (it was a reference to my last job where I actually worked hard to change our very restrictive license to be more open and and beneficial to the creator.) I’m not a fan of those types of licenses at all and alluded to that when I said FB’s lawyers must come from traditional media or entertainment backgrounds.

    Still, I do find it ironic that some of those same creators who get uptight about licensing have no qualms about illegally downloading music.

    I do think young people are a) more comfortable living their lives online than older people and b) as younger people may not have thought through all the consequences around what they post or realize who can see what (and until recently, didn’t really change their default privacy settings).

    Not that older people don’t post inappropriate photos or comments either. But I would argue it’s more likely for younger people to be more impulsive about what they might put online.

    And hey, joining groups and posting status isn’t inaction—it got FB to revert to its old terms! I’m just saying I don’t think they would have terminated their accounts over it like some photographers or maybe some older privacy-obsessed folks might have. I didn’t terminate mine either.

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