Zuckerberg: I decide societal norms. (Are Facebook users lobotomized lemmings?)

Zuckerberg: I decide societal norms. (Are Facebook users lobotomized lemmings?)

Summary: All told its been an extraordinary week for trans Pacific business relations. Google served notice on China that it would do what ever it takes to protect the privacy of the data within gmail accounts of human rights activists.


All told its been an extraordinary week for trans Pacific business relations. Google served notice on China that it would do what ever it takes to protect the privacy of the data within gmail accounts of human rights activists. Meanwhile back in America Mark Zuckerberg gave an extraordinary interview where he posits his views on the declining utility of personal privacy. And since we apparently value our privacy less andl less and since the population of Facebook becomes more and more.....well, its a mere formality: lets just cut out the noise and lets have Mark decide what the social norms are and set privacy settings in Facebook accordingly.

A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they've built. Doing a privacy change for 350 million users is not the kind of thing that a lot of companies would do. But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner's mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.

But here I think Facebook is walking into the ethical trap of determinism. Facebook judge we don't value our privacy so they are taking the safety guards away. Are we really lobotomized lemmings without any regard for the value & dignity of our own privacy? Or as Mike Arrington put it in his subtly titled post 'Ok you Luddites, Time to Chill out on Facebook over Privacy':

The point is, we don’t really care about privacy anymore. And Facebook is just giving us exactly what we want.

Then again last July TechCrunch's Jason Kincaid also had this to say in his slightly more soberly titled post 'The Looming Facebook Privacy Fiasco':

Facebook clearly wants its users to become more comfortable sharing their content across the web, because that’s what needs to happen if the site is going to take Twitter head-on with real-time search capabilities. Unfortunately that’s far easier said than done for the social network, which has for years trumpeted its granular privacy settings as one of its greatest assets. Now, those settings are turning into problematic obstacles.


What's really interesting to me is the juxtapositon of Google and Facebook this week on the issue of privacy rights. That China and the West have cultural differences that can lead to misunderstandings & misalignment of values is to state the well trodden obvious.

But imagine for a second Facebook as a Chinese originating service with Zuckerberg its native Chinese CEO entrepreneur. How then would we view the cavalier way Zuckerberg presumes to determine collective societal norms on our behalf before going on to reset privacy controls for 350 million people world wide accordingly? I think a great deal many more people would have as much to say about that as has been said about Google's woes this week.

Topics: Emerging Tech, Google, Legal, Security, China, Social Enterprise

James Farrar

About James Farrar

James has more than 15 years of experience working on corporate sustainability issues from both the corporate and NGO campaigning perspective.

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  • FB users deserve what's coming to them.

    If you mind having your privacy trampled, don't be on Facebook. It's as simple as that. I did some work with them a couple years ago and regrettably had to get an account to finish my code. When I saw the kinds of shenanigans they were pulling, including leaving cookies lying around that other sites used to track my internet use while not on fb, I closed my account and blocked their IPs from my network.
    They are a completely evil company. Zuckerberg is the embodiment of smarmy-frat-boy-yuppie snake oil salesman. Forget the fact that social networking is a stupid waste of time, and there are a lot of better ways to stay in touch and/or put your opinions out and/or establish an online presence. The fact is, these guys are absolute scoundrels. And anyone who sucks up and agrees to their anti-privacy policies, like their right to publish your photo or info for profit any time they like, deserves exactly what he or she gets.
    If you wanted to improve the world by wiping out the 350 million dumbest people, well, Zuckerberg's marketing list wouldn't be a bad place to start.
    • While i cannot say what goes on with FB behind closed doors

      I do take exception to this: [b]Forget the fact that social networking is a stupid waste of time...[/b] While I'm ticked that Zuckerberg is taking our right and desire for some form of privacy for granted - or indeed trampling all over it, WHO are you to decide if social networking is a waste of time or not? Yes there are those who are addicted to it, who cannot live without hourly checkups on facebook, twitter, myspace, etc. at the same time social networking is nothing more than a tool - a way to get back in touch with people from one's past that for whatever reason one lost touch with. For that it is an invaluable resource - personally I have found several people who I lost touch with over the years that were at one time close friends and are now close friends again. But from your statements friends are a "stupid waste of time"? I don't think so. What IS a stupid waste of time is your post.
      • Love your post!

        Could not have said it better myself. I have also reconnected with some people I have not seen, or heard from, in years, and that part of FB is fantastic. I've also read numerous stories about grandmas and grandpas who use FB to "talk" to their grandkids thousands of miles away and sure, why not, it's easier (and maybe cheaper) than Skype, and safer than webcam.

        I do have a rather big problem with FB just going ahead and changing my privacy permissions without my OK. I've re-set them, again, to my liking and hope they will stay that way. I also avoid the swarm of all these "little friendly apps" (that I get invites to all the time); apparently, these will take some of what information you have already set as private, and go public with it...
      • I agree - GREAT post!

        Nor did I know Mr. Zuckerberg was elected President of Society.
    • Interesting

      That's why I clean my temp files frequently during the course of my browsing.
    • Oh, come now.

      Enough of those 350M will reset to max privacy and watch what FB does with
      their private content.

      If their content gets raided despite their wishes to the contrary, they'll close their
      accounts and move on. And some enterprising young people will see an
      opportunity and create a site where their users' privacy settings are respected.

      Sounds like Zuck's 'culture' can use some competition.
      • @DwightMoody

        Excellent idea!
  • RE: Zuckerberg: I decide societal norms. (Are Facebook users lobotomized le

    Most facebookers won't even see this article. They've got
    carrots to harvest. That's what I hate about facebook,
    everyone spends all their time there while all the rest of the
    information of the world (the internet) flies past them.
    Lemmings indeed.
    Guardian Angel 1969
    • That depends....

      on who also reads ZDNet and other technical sites, and uses FB. As a computer and network tech, I access a lot of technical messages and sites. At the same time I also use FB as a way to keep in touch with people that I haven't seen in years (anything up to 45 ago), and more recently formed friendships. What sort of time split do I get, about 50/50. Some days I will spend more on FB, but over a week, it all tends to even out. Maybe there are a lot of lemmings on FB, but when I reconnected after moving house, and having no internet at all, I very quickly set my privacy settings the way I had them previously.

      One thing that I think that you may have forgotten is that privacy doesn't exist on the Internet to any serious extent. If you want to keep things private, you don't go and put them up on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or any of the other Social Networking sites, and the same applies to open forums, blog sites etc, which apples to here also.
      • @RealAusTech

        Nicely stated.

        As an "old person" of 64, I think many people who use Facebook and its associated "games" and other "friendly" apps are indeed foolish.

        Because of security issues, my FB account is private and, except for having a few friends (most of whom are relatives and under 40 and some of whom are in their 20s), all of my settings are set about as private as Zuckerberg has left to us.

        Obviously, Zuckerberg is a self-serving pig, and I look forward to a competitor product as Dwight Moody has been preaching in this forum. Until that time, I will continue to guard my privacy at the same time that I use the social networks best providing the services I seek.
    • Taking the good with the bad

      Facebook is somewhat like the election process, in
      that the majority are content to go along for the
      ride and the rest seek a richer form of
      participation. Yes, the vast majority of
      "bookers" don't know and don't care that
      discussions like this go on. Don't worry about
      them -- take care of yourself (and those you care
      Hockey Hall of Fame
  • RE: Zuckerberg: I decide societal norms. (Are Facebook users lobotomized le

    I would be the last person on earth to sign up with
    Facebook. Where I work, it's astonishing that some people
    actually access it on company computers and company
    time. However, since one was recently let go for
    performance reasons, and one of those was the fact they
    spent a lot of time on Facebook at work, perhaps others
    will take note and not set themselves up for similar
    treatment. People who have such a yearning to tell
    strangers intimate details about their private lives, and not
    just on Facebook, have serious issues they need to
  • RE: Zuckerberg: I decide societal norms. (Are Facebook users lobotomized lemmings?)

    That's a cheap trick. "If you don't agree with me, you're a lobotomized lemming." This delights me ... because it is so silly. "I'm the king of the castle!"

    I am a Facebook user. It is ... a mass-suicide of data-privacy. But it's a mass-suicide of data-privacy that amuses me. When the Kafka-esque thin-end-of-the-wedge arrives, trumpets blazing and twitter-birds chirruping, I will post the photos on Facebook under the title: Apocalypse Now LOL!!!

    Lobotomized lemmings might well be less liable to mass suicide that non lobotomized lemmings...
  • Pathetic, not lobotomized lemmings.

    I mostly feel sorry for Facebook users. They so willingly advertise to the world just how bereft they are of personal pride and dignity. I would rather run naked through the street, moon a political convention, or paint myself psychedelic before exposing my life on Facefook. So why the popularity? I guess there simply are a few millions who need to tell the world that they exist. Leave them alone, because they already are at the nadir of existence.
  • How does the removal of rights begin? By pretending it's just a culture.

    "That China and the West have cultural differences
    that can lead to misunderstandings & misalignment of
    values is to state the well trodden obvious."

    I understand them well enough. I just disagree with
    the idea of pretending that all culture is good, no
    matter what.

    It's the "look the other way, pretend nothing is
    really happening, you just misunderstand the culture"
    mentality that has caused some of the worst tragedies
    mankind has ever seen.

    It will do us no good to pretend China is all happy
    and glad and ignore the truth.

    We do have cultural differences - and that's fine,
    China has a great culture. But let's not use that as
    an excuse to ignore the fact that they have major
    issues, especially concerning censorship and the lack
    of free speech.

    And let's not ignore that Google gladly became a part
    of that censorship.

    I don't care if they're the fastest growing internet
    consumer. I don't care if they'll soon have more
    people on the Internet than the USA. That's a red
    herring. A way to pretend nothing is really happening.

    Some thoughts about the NYT article:

    "But as Lee and I talked about how the Internet was
    transforming China, he offered one opinion that seemed
    telling: the Chinese students he meets and employs,
    Lee said, do not hunger for democracy."

    Human rights are not a matter of whether people want
    them or not.

    For you see - the same thing happened to the people in
    the south in the USA's Civil War.

    Many people were fine with not giving people their

    Especially the people who benefited from taking away
    the rights of others, or who were not affected by

    Yes, if you talk to the people who are not affected by
    the arrangement, you might see indifference or even

    But that's not who you should be talking to to
    understand why we have human rights. You should talk
    to the people who are arrested, who are shut down.

    That's how stuff like slavery began. That's how any
    type of human rights abuse begins. People accept it as
    the new norm, even if it tramples on others.

    It appears innocent. It's something that appears as
    "part of the culture" or something "most people don't
    mind" or something similar to make it sound better.

    You think that, if it weren't somehow made palatable
    to the average person that it would happen?

    Even Hitler wouldn't have lasted a day if he couldn't
    convince his people it was okay - that it was just a
    different way of doing things - that it wasn't really

    This . . . this is how it begins. With censorship.
    It's the first step.

    "But perhaps the distorted universe is less of a
    problem in China, because ? as many Chinese citizens
    told me ? the Chinese people long ago learned to read
    past the distortions of Communist propaganda and media

    I hope so. But it's not a good idea to accept the
    distortion and keep the status quo.

    If it stays distorted long enough, it just might
    become effective.

    I would rather have no Google at all in China than to
    have a censored Google. Because a censored Google is a
    tool for the leaders to win over the hearts and minds
    of the people, and to convince them it's okay to
    remove their rights.
  • Back to the septic tank with you, spam-boy

    Nobody with an ounce of intelligence will buy any of your garbage.
    Everyone hates you, and hopes you get run over by a runaway PortaPotty
    truck. Then they can just shovel your remains into one of them, and put
    you where you properly belong. Oh, yeah, and have a nice day.
    • forgot to take your Prozac today?

  • RE: Zuckerberg: I decide societal norms. (Are Facebook users lobotomized lemmings?)

    I think it's interesting that Facebook is throwing away it's unique selling points one by one. Firstly, it takes on Twitter by simplifying what it offers with the News feed. Now it's telling us privacy is not important.

    Is it really that determined to fail?

    I've written more on this subject at http://www.keitherrington.com/blog/files/72ea2760e6833e6fc36a9231c255b5b7-7.php

    But this really does raise questions about how much we value our privacy and how far will Facebook go to earn some money.
  • Zuckerberg is a murderer

    Excuse the sensational title. But the rumor mill has it that dozens of Iranian facebook users have been rounded up and disappeared over the past few weeks because their facebook friends list is populated with known activists and causes. When they set their friends list to private, they were counting on it being so.
    • Can you quote your sources?

      Excuse the obvious question that just needed to be asked - where is the proof of your "rumor mill"? Would love to confirm your story.