Last week, Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg went before Congress in a two-day, televised event that answered so many questions, and created so many more. So, the question is this. Did Facebook dodge the bullet or is the worst yet to come? I believe the answer is both. Short-term, they dodged the bullet, but long-term is a completely different story.
There is so much I have to say about Facebook and all the other companies in the space like Google (GOOGL), Apple (AAPL), Amazon.com (AMZN), Microsoft (MSFT) and the other social networks and information titans.
Facebook: The Emperor Has No Clothes
You remember the Hans Christian Anderson story about how the emperor has no clothes. That’s how all these social networks and Internet sites have grown. We all bought into all the good they do in connecting us and getting us information.
What we have not done is look at what we were losing in the chaos of all this growth. The other side of the coin. Now we are starting to take a look and it does not look good.
I have been writing about loss of privacy and censorship for years, decades in fact. Maybe now, we can all understand what we have lost and try to make sense of our world going forward. We have gained so much in the last few decades with this kind of new technology, but we have also lost so much. If we don’t get smart, quick, we will lose everything before we realize it.
We Must Be Aware of Both Sides of the Facebook Coin
We must act now before it’s too late to hang on to our independence. I am not saying these companies are bad. In fact, I love how they help us do more, faster than ever before. However, we have been ignoring the other side of the coin. We must move ahead responsibly.
When I talk with my kids about this, it’s like talking to a brick wall. They don’t see a problem giving up their privacy. Middle aged and older American’s however do see a major problem. Wars were fought over this. I fear that by the time the kids grow up and do care, it will be too late.
Mark Zuckerberg Suddenly Cares About His Own Privacy
Think about it. When United States Senator Dick Durbin asked Mark Zuckerberg if he would mind telling us which hotel he stayed at. Zuckerberg said yes, he would mind. So, Zuckerberg is protective of his own privacy, but not concerned about the two billion Facebook users privacy? Interesting.
So, Zuckerberg is now in his 30’s and suddenly cares about privacy. The same thing will happen with other Facebook users.
Therefore, until significant changes are made to protect our privacy, the best protection is to guard your own privacy yourself. Make sure all the settings are checked. This is a problem however, because there are so many different settings in so many different places, users don’t have any idea if they did it all.
Facebook should put all the privacy controls on one page and there should be separate switches, or one switch to protect everything.
Then again, this flies in the face of how Facebook earns income selling targeted advertising. The problem is, their business model ticks off their users.
What I am continually upset about is the way Facebook and other companies continue to abuse the privacy rights of all their users. The young don’t know how important things like privacy are until they get older. But by that time, it will be too late.
Zuckerberg Doesn’t Understand the Problem
It’s also clear how Zuckerberg and Congress look at this problem from two different perspectives. He doesn’t think he or Facebook is doing anything wrong. And that’s the rub. There are two, distinct views about loss of privacy and Facebook. Young and more mature. The youth trusts. The mature realize they cannot trust even though they’d like to.
Zuckerberg admitted he trusted until others abused his trust. Now he has to create new procedures to protect user’s privacy.
It’s too bad two billion users have to be hurt while Zuckerberg grows up.
Censorship and Privacy are Two Facebook Problems
The other major issue with Facebook is censorship. If they are an open forum, what gives them the right to censor differing political views?
Facebook executives and workers think they have a responsibility to be active and both promote certain ways of thinking and downplay other ways. There are two sides to every coin. Neither are right or wrong, just different. This is always the way things have been in our society.
What we need to do is figure out a way to work together. This is not any different from decades ago when politicians from opposing sides like Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill debated both sides of every issue. Then finally they got together and compromised. That’s when America worked best.
Facebook Thinks It’s Judge, Jury and Censor
Freedom of speech is what America is all about. Censorship has no place. Unfortunately, there are so many examples of censorship and that’s a key problem. Example. Consider the conservative sisters Diamond and Silk. These are simply two women, who are Trump supporters, who share their opinions, and were taken off Facebook because of it.
Who said Facebook should have this much power on such an important information tool. Zuckerberg said Facebook was wrong and they put Diamond and Silk back up. While that’s good, they were only saved because it became a national outcry.
What about others who don’t have the same name recognition or PR power to negatively affect Facebook? When they are taken down, they have no power to get put back up. This is the problem Facebook is creating against itself.
Fairness must be part of the equation. Censoring of opinion has no place in our country. There are always multiple sides to every issue. It’s important to hear them all and to debate every issue.
Zuckerberg says they have tens of thousands of workers and are hiring many more to sift through the massive content on Facebook. While this is admirable and sounds good, this too is flawed.
Who are they hiring? They are obviously leaning to one side. The new people they hire are obviously from Silicon Valley and the surrounding area. An area where most lean the same way.
So, simply hiring more people with the same kind of thinking won’t solve the problem.
Both Sides Must Debate to Come Up with a Solution
I’m not taking sides. I am saying, both sides must be discussing issues, and only then can we come up with real solutions everyone can live with.
Unfortunately, today, the vast majority of these people look at the world from one perspective. Not only that, but they think the other side not only has a different opinion but is wrong and worse, evil.
This is wrong. This is not evil, just different. Facebook and every computer and information service must be neutral and fair. Something they are not yet.
Is AI Really a Facebook Solution to Fairness Problem?
The only way for Facebook to win at this is to hire equal numbers from both sides. However, even that would not work because it would depend who did the reviewing of each piece. The only fair way would be for two sides to review every item and then make a decision after debating for hours on each one.
That obviously would take too much time and resources and won’t happen either.
So, is AI an answer? Perhaps, if it is programmed to be fair and neutral. The problem is if the Facebook AI is programmed by the same people who lean one way and not the other, then it won’t be fair either and the problem will continue.
I hope you can see how the Facebook problem with privacy and censorship are simply bigger than Zuckerberg or Facebook or anyone or any other company can manage.
So, what’s the answer? Clearly there is a problem.
Solutions Come from Understanding, Respecting and Protecting Each Other
So, as you can see, there are several problems like invasion of and loss of privacy and censorship of political opinions.
This is the problem when we let political differences tear us apart. There are solutions. But first we must agree that we are all equal. We are all Americans. However, all American’s think differently about a whole host of different topics.
Both sides are equal. We just have different viewpoints. Not evil, but equal.
We must all understand there are differing opinions in the world. It’s always been that way. Not better or worse. Not right and wrong. Not good and evil. Just different. This simply must be understood and respected. We must respect each other.
If we can do that, then life for Facebook and all the other major competitors could quickly become much more livable. Problems would disappear. Differences could be discussed. That’s the way America has been built over the last few centuries. Things have worked pretty well until now. Is it not worth considering?
Jeff Kagan is an Equities.com columnist. Kagan is a Wireless Analyst, Telecom Analyst, Industry Analyst, speaker and consultant. He follows wireless, wire line, telecom, Internet, cable TV, IPTV, Cloud, Mobile Pay, FinTech and communications technology. Email him at jeff@jeffKAGAN.com. His web site is www.jeffKAGAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeffkagan.