segunda-feira, 25 de junho de 2012
Posted by Steve Coll
I established a Facebook account in 2008. My motivation was ignoble: I
wanted to distribute my journalism more widely. I have acquired since
then just over four thousand "friends"—in Afghanistan, Pakistan,
India, the Middle East, and of course, closer to home. I have
discovered the appeal of Facebook's community—for example, the
extraordinary emotional support that swells in virtual space when
people come together online around a friend's illness or life
Through its bedrock appeals to friendship, community, public identity,
and activism—and its commercial exploitation of these values—Facebook
is an unprecedented synthesis of corporate and public spaces. The
corporation's social contract with users is ambitious, yet neither its
governance system nor its young ruler seem trustworthy. Then came this
month's initial public offering of stock—a chaotic and revealing
event—which promises to put the whole enterprise under even greater
There are many reasons to be skeptical about Facebook's I.P.O., which
raised $16 billion for the company. For investors, as my colleague
John Cassidy has pointed out, the company's founders and early
investors are likely to do better with this much-hyped event than
individual investors. The offering itself was as visible a disaster as
a lead underwriting bank (in this case, Morgan Stanley) has turned in
for some time: Facebook shares have fallen by more than ten per cent;
there were trading screwups by Nasdaq; and lawsuits and regulatory
investigations into whether Morgan and Facebook properly shared
information with investors have already started.
This launch-pad explosion is also one more reason to be wary of what
my colleague James Surowiecki has analyzed: Facebook's two-tiered
corporate-governance system, which ensures that founder Mark
Zuckerberg retains firm control, and can't be easily challenged by
dissident shareholders, even if he steers badly off course, as highly
self-confident men in their late twenties sometimes do.
Those are reasons for investors to be doubtful; at least as worrying
is what the I.P.O.-palooza signals about Facebook's sovereignty over
citizens, here and abroad. Facebook has become a public square of
global importance. By the end of the summer, it may have more than a
billion users, or about fifteen per cent of the world's population.
Some of these people are restive and see Facebook as a substitute
public space for speech and dissent that their own authoritarian
regimes don't provide. Facebook users have already helped to foment
revolution in some places (Egypt and Tunisia) and are still trying, at
great cost, to overthrow one of the Middle East's most brutal regimes.
Within the United States, Facebook is a venue for all sorts of issue
and political campaigns. And yet, on the site, as a practical matter,
what speech is permitted or banned is determined largely by Facebook's
terms of service. The terms function as a corporate constitution
binding users to the provider's conception of what speech is
acceptable. My colleague at the New America Foundation, Rebecca
MacKinnnon, in her recent book "Consent of the Networked," calls this
realm "Facebookistan." Once Facebook users sign on and accept the
terms of service, their postings are subordinate to the corporation's
rules, for as long as they choose to stay. In a place like Syria, the
Facebook rules users encounter are much more permissive than local
laws; in the United States, that is not so clear.
You might expect dense legalese, but the terms' language is clear and
soaring, echoing the tones of constitutional documents. Some of the
declaratory sentences lay out the commitments by Facebook's royal
"We." Others describe the obligations of the subject "You." The terms
are organized into sections, like articles. One entitled "Safety"
seems to self-consciously echo the Ten Commandments: "You will not
bully, intimidate, or harass any user…. You will not post content
that: is hateful, threatening or pornographic; incites violence; or
contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence." And there is this
hint of Facebook's expansive authority: "You will not encourage or
facilitate any violations of this Statement."
The terms obfuscate Facebook's business strategies in such simple
language that the deception—the sense of what is being left out—is
almost poetic: "Sometimes we get data from our advertising partners,
customers, and other third parties that helps us (or them) deliver
ads, understand online activity, and generally make Facebook better."
Facebook has made jarring mistakes as its leaders have learned what it
means to run a profit-motivated political and public forum. In 2009,
for example, the corporation exposed Iranian dissidents to danger by
unilaterally changing privacy rules that allowed the Iranian
authorities to see the identities of activists' online friends. The
error was corrected quickly, but in general, Facebook has encouraged
its users to accept greater and greater losses of privacy. Zuckerberg
believes the world will be better off if it adopts "radical
transparency," as the journalist David Kirkpatrick put it in his book,
"The Facebook Effect."
Zuckerberg's business model requires the trust and loyalty of his
users so that he can make money from their participation, yet he must
simultaneously stretch that trust by driving the site to maximize
profits, including by selling users' personal information. The I.P.O.
last week will exacerbate this tension: Facebook's huge valuation now
puts pressure on the company's strategists to increase its
revenue-per-user. That means more ads, more data mining, and more
creative thinking about new ways to commercialize the personal,
cultural, political, and even revolutionary activity of users.
There is something vaguely dystopian about oppressed peoples in Syria
or Iran seeking dignity and liberation inside a corporate sovereign
that is, for its part, creating great wealth for its founders and
asserting control over its users.
Facebook is hardly the only corporation managing these sorts of
dilemmas—Google is a target of investigations seeking greater
information about how it manages customer information it collects,
about which it has sometimes been opaque, and it too has broken trust
with users. Facebook points out that it has been responsive to revolts
and protests from within. Zuckerberg proudly told Kirkpatrick that he
revelled in the ways Facebook's users had forced him to become more
democratic: "History tells us that systems are most fairly governed
when there is an open and transparent dialogue between the people who
make decisions and those who are affected by them. We believe history
will one day show that this principle holds true for companies as
That is a laudable conception. Yet for now, at least, Facebook
concedes to its users only when it judges that it is in the
corporation's interest to do so; what user votes and consultations
there may be are purely advisory. As MacKinnon observes, this system
suggests the political control strategies of the Chinese Communist
Party: periodic campaigns of state-managed openness and managed local
While talking to varied audiences recently about my new book (warning:
marketing ahead), "Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power," I
have been reminded how uneasy Americans from of all ideological
orientations are about corporate power and sovereignty these days.
They believe in capitalism and market efficiencies, to be sure, but
they fear heavily concentrated private power, especially where it
encroaches on their economic and personal choices. They ask, "What
should we do?"
Perhaps it starts with exercising citizenship. I have decided to
exercise mine—in Facebookistan, that is. This seems the right time to
leave such a crowded and volatile public square.
It takes a while to find it, but if you are a Facebook user, there is
a small settings button entitled "deactivate account." If you click,
Facebook displays the faces of people "who will miss you." If you are
determined nonetheless to depart, and scroll further down, you are
required to choose a "reason for leaving" before you are permitted to
go. Unfortunately, "inadequate citizen rule" or "doubts about
corporate governance" are not among the choices. From the available
list, I went with "I don't feel safe on Facebook."
Farewell, Facebook friends. May you enjoy everywhere the full rights
of free citizens.
Illustration by Kate Prior.
Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2012/05/leaving-facebookistan.html#ixzz1yokdefoj
Despejada pelo Paulo Jurza
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