Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Against Facebook Nationalization

The other day I was poking around on the internet (Facebook to be specific) and saw an opinion piece from Slate.com with the headline:

“Let's Nationalize Facebook”

Clearly, the title is provocative to say the least and my initial reaction was to laugh. I immediately figured this piece was written by a comedian, satirist, or some journalist trying to be cute.

To say the least, I was sorely mistaken. The piece is 100% serious and the author is one Dr. Philip N. Howard, a Professor at the University of Washington and fellow at Princeton.

A friend forwarded his own response to this piece.  I  found it was close to being spot on with my reaction.  He has given me permission.  His thoughts are below:

I gotta say, this article is a gem, a true shining example of leftist thought: a guy honestly trying to argue that things get better through national control. My favorite highlights:

"Facebook has become a public good and an important social resource."

Yah, ruining marriages, and time hopelessly squandered through brainless games and idle curiosity about old high school acquaintances... that's public good.

"A spring survey found that almost half of Americans believe that Facebook will eventually fade away."

I wonder why Americans believe that. Maybe it's because there are so many examples of it. Besides, the market has a way of filling voids. AOL is all but gone as an internet provider, but (gasp) I'm on line right now. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? Shouldn't the government have nationalized AOL to save the internet?

"Even the business side has been a bit of a disaster lately, with earnings lower than expected and the news that a significant portion of Facebook profiles are fake."

So I should give a crap about FB's stock price now. Methinks the author is losing his shirt. BTW, how do FB's fundamentals look? I'm going to guess terrible. Too bad Mark Zuckerberg conned the world into giving him billions of dollars in exchange for their personal information.

"When nationalizing the company restores the public trust,..."

I love this premise. Because the public trust is so high in the Postal Service, Medicare, and GM's car manufacturing decisions.

"There are three very good reasons for this drastic step: It could fix the company's woeful privacy practices, allow the social network to fulfill its true potential for providing social good, and force it to put its valuable data to work on significant social problems."

My sides hurt from the laughter. Life must be great in the author's world... because it is a world set apart from the rest of us.

"It would be better to have a national privacy commissioner with real authority, some stringent privacy standards set at the federal level, and programs for making good use of some of the socially valuable data mining that firms like Facebook do. But in the United States, such sweeping innovations are probably too difficult to actually pull off, and nationalization would almost get us there."

We need to check the Professor Howard's blood alcohol content at this point. So many absurdities packed into such a small space. Nationalization -- government control of ONE COMPANY -- would bring about sweeping innovations? Anyone with any government experience knows that a federal bureaucracy is perhaps the body least capable of innovation of any kind. This guy wants FB to be taken over by someone who thinks like he does. Here's a thought: he should try to create a social networking company that he likes, as opposed to advocating government control of someone else's.

I bet the author lives in a nice place. With all the time he spends crafting expert opinion, I bet the author's grass is a mess, and his flowerbeds are in need of weeding. The federal government should appoint a Yard Commissioner for his house, to see to it that this guy takes care of his grounds. If he doesn't do as Mother Government says, then maybe the government should appoint me Head Occupant of his house. That would be awesome, and he'd have it coming.

"Facebook communications are an important tool for democracy advocates, including those who helped organize the Arab Spring."

The hits just keep on coming. Arab Spring = Democracy. There are many dead Christians in Egypt who might object.

"While most U.S. citizens and most global citizens treat Facebook as their social network infrastructure, the firm is greatly understaffed: It has about 4,000 employees serving nearly 1 billion users. Facebook staffers—at least those in it for the social good, rather than the bonuses—might even welcome the move to nationalize. Currently, Facebook employees are tasked with discovering marketable trends, selling advertising, and doing data mining in the service of profit. Nationalizing Facebook would allow more resources to go into data mining for public health and social research."

That's what a billionaire needs -- more government money! Who could write this with a straight face? Those poor FB employees! How do they survive on their large salaries and exclusive corporate culture? The author is clearly deranged, or still in school. Does he know anyone who works at FB? I am going to guess not.

"Users in some parts of the world might panic if Facebook becomes an official part of the U.S. government. But there are plenty of examples of good public investment in media and infrastructure. For instance, citizens around the world benefit from the BBC, and many governments use the public purse to support technology innovation and build up information infrastructure. The public policy benefits of scholarship with Facebook's "big data" would spread around the world. Having occasional access to anonymous profiles would help democracy activists living in dictatorships. The high—and globally consistent—privacy standards that could be swiftly implemented after nationalization would be good for everyone."

Isn't the BBC great? No privately owned media outlets could entertain us like they do (or control the messaging as they see fit). And I'm sure the government would only use personal data about everyone for good at all times. They could never abuse such a thing, could they?

My solution for FB is still the correct one: stay away. If you don't like what they're doing, then turn your back on them. Perhaps the author should start a "socially conscious" alternative company that opens up its databases to the government and anyone else who wants it. I'm sure users would flock to it. Both of them.

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