Facebook Politics

When the topic of social media comes up, Facebook is often one of the top networks that comes up. And with good reason. With over 175 million users, it would rank 6th globally (between Brazil and Pakistan) if it were its own country. As the network has grown exponentially over the past couple of years, it runs into challenges of governance as well as learning how to maintain its hockey-stick shaped growth trajectory. One could chalk it up to growing pains of any start-up company, but if you peel back the layers, you might see other challenges — and opportunities.When Google started out back in what seems like an eternity now (1998), one of their mantras was to “do no evil.” No one really knew what that meant, but for better or for worse, at the time it seemed anti-Microsoft and that resonated with many. The search wars were waged, Google won and rose to prominence. While the Myspace/Facebook rivalry plays out, the topic of “do no evil” comes back into discussion. First it was Beacon, the controversial ad service that Facebookers rejected. Then came the design changes that we live with now.

The recent controversy over Facebook’s new terms of service (ToS) essentially gave them extraordinary power: “irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers)….” Yes, it’s lawyerspeak but it certainly doesn’t sound enticing to me or any potential new user.

Needless to say, the public balked and Facebook caved and went back to its previous ToS. Now, the company seems to be backing away from its authoritarian stance, taking a more democratic approach by inviting users to craft the privacy policy. In a way, this is somewhat akin to the government asking its citizens to rewrite its laws. The question now is, how can Facebook monetize its massive traffic in a way that its users can accept and what value will users get in return?

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