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Zuckerberg’s Regret. After the Movie: On Facebook & Privacy & More

The Social Network, both the movie itself and the event of the thing, works on many different levels. The Hollywood and real-life versions of Mark Zuckerberg’s striking gold are certainly a story of our (changing) times, and the timing of the film’s release is spot on. Having taken a crack last week at FB & Privacy, ive got some quick thoughts to throw down since seeing the movie in a jam-packed theatre on the Champs-Elysees, sitting next to at least one person who is not one of the Facebook 500 million club. And she liked the movie too!?

HACKER REDUX.…the early scenes of Zuck cracking into the Harvard computer system to get photos of campus coeds makes a nice hacking/historical/cinematic/bookend with “War Games“. Hey, that was 27 friggin’ years ago…!? Since then, the image of computers/computing has gotten much more personal and much less scary *in a WWIII kind of way…and yet, clearly, the impact on our lives is immeasurably greater. Possible consequences in the future? Even scary ones? As incalculable as ever….

NOT THE DISCOVERY CHANNEL the pre-punctual rushing to the defense of Zuck, FB, the Church of the Social Web that’s been circulating around the, er, social web...is all fairly ridiculous. That a hollywood screenwriter didn’t set out to “understand” or “explain” something doesn’t mean he has misunderstood it. And in fact, it’s all mostly there: the changing nature of business, communication and relationships, and yes, privacy. And how these things also have NOT changed. Fictional Zuck trying to talk to his ex at the restaurant after he’s irreparably blown it has no computer interface involved. He is a hero of capitalism not interested in money, a social innovator who struggles with sociability. This is not about geeks v. non-geeks or revenge of the revenge of the nerds. It’s about the real-life creator of Facebook. You remember: 0 to 500 million is six years. Letting these contradictions seep out, rather than hit you over the head with it–that’s what storytelling…and filmmaking…should be about.

GENIUS MR. Z. My basic lack of knowledge about the internet is nothing compared to my total ignorance about the ins and outs of building computer hardware and software…But I’m gonna venture to say that the Facebook founder has got a bit of both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs: being able to understand how to build the things that people want to use, and the underlying architecture that supports it. The social aspect of computing technology is Zuck’s great invention. If 9 out of 10 nerd/geek/hackers are identified as such in part because of their difficulty in the broader social milieu (and/or desire to stay outside of it)…it then follows that the 1 out of 10 (1 in a billion!) who manages to understand the very elemental structure of the way we interact with each other is destined to design new methods and machines for doing so.

BUSINESS IS BUSINESS They say the real genius of Gates and Jobs is in how they built their companies. The Social Network gives a hint of Zuck’s prowess as a coming corporate titan. It’s a mix of tenacity, decisiveness, finding good people to work with. Much is made out of the fact that he doesn’t care about money. (Hey, there’s time!) But it’s not so strange that someone isn’t in business to get rich…there’s much else to be had: power, fame, revolution…and there’s a bit of all those in Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg.

PRIVACY, WHERE ART THOU? It’s ever more clear that this is much more than a side issue for Facebook, and the social revolution it is leading. In a certain sense the word ‘privacy‘ is the flipside/opposite of social. The more we share, the less privacy we hold on to, the more social the internet becomes — and the more of our lives we live on the internet — the more the very meaning of privacy is being transformed. That is Zuck’s revolution…and his business model. But it’s not a done deal. Facebook is still new, and habits can change. Platforms can shift. FB is still NOT Microsoft. Returning to my Friday night movie companion, who I will remind you, is not on Facebook. And neither are there any pictures of her…or our kids…on my FB page. I don’t know whether I agree with her diktat, but we’ll err on the side of privacy. She/we are the exception….for now. And the only thing the real life Zuckerberg has felt he had to apologize for is not any perceived invasion of privacy of 500 million, but stupid stuff he wrote on a blog when he was an anonymous 19-year-old student at Harvard.

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Why Facebook is in Bad Faith on Privacy: And Why They Will (and Should) Forge Ahead

This is my second attempt at becoming a real blogger. Keep it brief, dammit! Kick the urge to say too much, too cleanly. That’s not blogging: it’s two parts rambling, one part journalism. No good. From here on, as often as possible, i will try to just bang out these posts as single-topic hits, with a 300-600 word target length. Snapshots from my travels; Screen grabs from my brain… Ommm….ommm…channeling Dave Winer.

I begin in this new off-the-cuff & targeted format with one big topic: Facebook and Privacy. The latest instalment features the 500mln strong social network rejiggering the way FB Groups work, notably the blatantly Orwellian feature that someone ELSE can join you in these groups. I don’t think that’s even proper English, which is a sign that something is amiss. Jason Calacanis coined the phrase “force-join” for the occasion. Anyway you slice it, where I come from this is NOT cool. To say you can opt out of a group you’d been opted into requires a “when-did-u-stop-beating-your-wife” click of your keyboard. In fact it is not a GROUP, in the way the word is presented. Language matters. It’s like the pernicious inverse of the famous Groucho Marx line about clubs and members…??

This is not, as was suggested to me, like tagging photos. If you are in a photo, it’s because you were in fact in that photo. You may wish you hadn’t been, but you were. Even so, the first time it happened to me I was creeped out…and a bit pissed off…a shot of 16yrold ME holding my crotch in faux b-boy pose popped up in public circulation…via my Facebook page…via the Facebook page of a friend from high school who i havent seen since…er….high school. Yoda Zuckerberg would say: Ah, but look at you now… you are voluntarily offering it up here, in the public square SQUARED. And he is right, of course, as the pure force of his vision and his business move the goal posts on what it means to share, and to be private.

Revolutions in social norms — not to mention billion dollar businesses generated by a company of 20-somethings — don’t happen by playing by the rules. FB’s goal is not to win the internet, it is to BE the internet. Their internet is indeed a “social” one that requires people to be connected to each other in vast new ways..if they want to stay in touch, if they want to do business. Vanishing privacy is collateral damage.

I just saw a friend from high school whom I hadn’t seen in 20 years. She was coming through Paris with her husband on a trip planned just as she and I connected on Facebook. It was nice to see her, and we have Zuck to thank, I guess…We talked a bit about FB…I said I was on it mostly for professional reasons…and every once in a while I check people’s photos. “Yeah, me too,” she said. “I just snoop.”

That seems innocent enough. But we know new communication platforms have the power to change the very way we see ourselves. TV is still changing us. Check out this disturbing story in Italy where the mother of a missing girl was giving a live TV interview, and found out during the interview that her daughter was in fact killed.

What will the Facebook/Internet version of such a scenario be? Will the benefits outweigh the costs? Mark Zuckerberg, subject of an invasive biopic that is currently No. 1 box office movie, is not spending his time/energy making these calculations. Nor should he. He’s building his business, making his revolution. The boundaries are for the rest of us to set.

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