What Does It Mean To Be “Critical”? Wired Column On Facebook Privacy Questioned

Updated to provide additional context: 6.31 pm Pacific
Sometimes, you just need to read a conversation thread in a single post to be truly boggled.

I’ll preface this exchange by noting that I read the Wired column under discussion (What if the Facebook (Un)Privacy Revolution Is a Good Thing) prior to this exchange: my take-away at the time was that Fred Vogelstein falls into the tech-world equivalent of Jay Rosen’s “church of the savvy“, a term Rosen uses to describe the “belief system that binds together our political press corps in Washington.”

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

I’ve interviewed Zuckerberg and/or members of his team more than a dozen times in the last three years, and I believe they all completely understood the company’s new privacy settings would be controversial. Indeed, I think they intended them to be controversial. Look back at the history of Facebook’s privacy firestorms — they happen roughly every 18 months — and you’ll see they all fit the same pattern. In order for Facebook to succeed, it needs to keep challenging existing conventions about online privacy. This isn’t a secret. Zuckerberg has said it many times. What he hasn’t said – but which he and anyone else with a brain knows – is that there is no way to do that without making some users angry.

And here’s the set-up for the Twitter discussion between Jay Rosen and Fred Vogelstein. Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) tweets:

If @fvogelstein has the courage of his contrarian convictions, he should also argue that Zuckerberg has a right to lie via http://jr.ly/zcq2 1/2

@jayrosen_nyu via twitter.com

2/2 @fvogelstein says he’s certain Zuck knew privacy changes would cause a furor, but Zuck and Co. said: We were shocked. A necessary lie?

Rosen responds to @jny2:

I believe @fvogelstein when he says he’s certain Zuck knew privacy changes would cause a furor, @jayrosen_nyu. http://bit.ly/bW2RMF

@jny2: Not doubting @fvogelstein on that. Then he should criticize Zuck for lying about the “shock,” or defend his right to lie to the press.

The next Tweet in the exchange is from @fvogelstein

Everyone lies to the press. It’s up to the press to know enough to expose those statements as lies. I wish people didn’t have the right to lie to the press, but they do. The only place you don’t have right to lie is under oath.

Back to Rosen

Okay, @fvogelstein. So why doesn’t your column hit Zuck for lying about how shocked he was at the backlash and for his phony “we heard you?”

And now to Vogelstein

Thought I had. What other explanation is there for repeated privacy firestorms? FB couldn’t exist w the world’s view of privacy circa 2002. So Zuck has forced it to evolve. Has he not been entirely forthcoming w users in the process. Yep. Does that make him difft from Jobs, the Google guys etc? Nope. Entreps always walk this line. Is Zuck too often on the wrong side of it for his users taste. Certainly seems that way, but user growth continues to accelerate. Go figure. Should something be done regardless – like some form of regulation? I leave that question for you. I don’t think I have much privacy and don’t think there is heck of a lot I can do about it wo a giveup. You and lots of totally reasonable people don’t agree w me, which is totally fine.

Back to @JayRosen_NYU

Lemme get this straight, @fvogelstein You think your column http://jr.ly/zcq2 critcizes Zuck and co. for lying to users? That’s interesting.

A Response from Vogelstein:

@jayrosen_nyu This is clearly impt to you. Perhaps u should write the piece u would have liked me to have written.

And the closing Tweet from Rosen:

My subscribers can evaluate. @fvogelstein‘s Wired column http://jr.ly/zcq2 Plus his explanations http://bit.ly/dBcWjv & http://bit.ly/9KWneW

What do you think? Do you think Zuckerberg lying? Is Vogelstein critical of Zuckerberg for lying? Should he be?

Posted via web from Kathy Gill’s posterous

9 thoughts on “What Does It Mean To Be “Critical”? Wired Column On Facebook Privacy Questioned

  1. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    kegill

    June 3, 2010 at 11:06am

    LOL! Thanks, Paul. That’s a giggle, isn’t it? Peas in a pod!

  2. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Jay Rosen

    June 1, 2010 at 4:04pm

    You said Carr; you meant Vogelstein, Kathy. You’re mixing up your professional contrarians! By the way, did you notice any links to the critics of Facebook he was doing the contrarian thing to? Harder to argue with real people. Easy to arrgue with your paraphrase of what nameless people are saying.

  3. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    paulbalcerak

    June 1, 2010 at 12:26pm

    @Kathy- Good point: “we ‘need’ less privacy…is not the same thing as Facebook needing us to want less privacy so that they can make money off of our openness.”

    Kind of like a Goldman Sachs daisy chain when you put it that way: Facebook creates a product/feature, exaggerates its value, gets everyone just comfortable enough, repeats.

  4. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    kegill

    June 1, 2010 at 11:11am

    Hi, Paul – I think the Facebook “backtrack” is more “PR” than “action.”

    However, like you, I have issues with that claim.

    Carr appears to be arguing that we “need” less privacy which is not the same thing as Facebook needing us to want less privacy so that they can make money off of our openness. He makes the claim: “I believe the world is a better place because of it” but he doesn’t support that claim in his essay except to claim that we have gotten used to the Facebook news feed. Hooey (to quote Nero Wolfe).

  5. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    paulbalcerak

    June 1, 2010 at 10:16am

    I agree with Jay.

    The other thing that doesn’t really “work” in Vogelstein’s column is:

    “You don’t change the world by giving people what they say they want, but by giving them something they didn’t know they needed.”

    If that’s his point, it’s moot, if not wrong, because Facebook ultimately backtracked on the privacy makeover.

  6. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Jay Rosen

    May 31, 2010 at 7:48pm

    I guess it depends on what you want from your contrarians.

    It seems to me that Vogelstein is willingly taking on a contrarian stance (contrary to Facebook critics and worried users, that is) and he should follow it through to expose the logical consequences of his stance.

    Here’s what I mean: If Zuckerberg is right to willingly ignite these controversies because that’s what winds up giving users what they didn’t know they wanted (but really do come to accept) then EITHER:

    √ Zuck is right to deceive the users and issue his phony apologies and feign surprise at the intensity of the reactions and cry out, “we hear you,” when what he really means is, “we knew you would squeal, but we’re going ahead anyway.” It may look like bad behavior, but it’s the only way to get around the fact that users don’t really know what’s good for them (and certainly Facebook critics don’t.) That’s why I spoke of a necessary lie and asked Vogelstein if he’s arguing for that, OR….

    √ Zuck is wrong to be deceptive in this way. He doesn’t need to bullshit us with statements of regret; he could be more honest about company strategies and maintain those strategies. If that be the case, I said, Vogelstein should have criticized Zuckerberg for his distortions and manipulations, while still maintaining that the company is right to keep pushing the boundaries on privacy, which seems to be the author’s overall view. This would have muddied the contrarian feel I felt he was going for, but it would have been more intellectually honest.

  7. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    legalinformatics

    May 31, 2010 at 5:05pm

    I’ll pass on whether I think Zuckerberg is lying. As I read Vogelstein, he implicitly states that Zuckerberg’s assertions of surprise at Facebook users’ complaints about changes to their privacy settings are disingenuous, because, Vogelstein argues, Zuckerberg anticipated and intended users’ dismay: “The truth is that the events of the past few weeks have been no accident. I’ve interviewed Zuckerberg and/or members of his team more than a dozen times in the last three years, and I believe they all completely understood the company’s new privacy settings would be controversial.” Accordingly, Vogelstein’s statement, “Thought I had” seems accurate, to the extent that Vogelstein’s statement means, “Yes, I stated that Zuckerberg was lying.” Professor Rosen seems to want more, however; he wants Vogelstein, not only to state that Zuckerberg was acting disinenguously (i.e., to describe the conduct), but also to criticize Zuckerberg for acting disingenuously (i.e., to make a negative moral judgment about the conduct): “why doesn’t your column hit Zuck for lying.” I think Vogelstein declines to make such a negative moral judgment respecting Zuckerberg’s conduct.

    Vogelstein identifies two dimensions respecting Zuckerberg’s approach to Facebook privacy. First, according to Vogelstein, Zuckerberg has an objective: change social norms of privacy, such that Facebook users are comfortable having Facebook share a very large amount of their personally identifying information with advertisers and online merchants, so that Facebook can become consistently profitable by effectively selling Facebook users’ personally identifying information to online merchants and purchasers of advertising.

    Second, according to Vogelstein, Zuckerberg has chosen a particular method for achieving that objective: every 18 months, and without giving Facebook users advance notice or an advance opportunity to comment (the “notice and a hearing” that are the basic elements of procedural due process in Anglo-American legal systems), change Facebook privacy settings so that they disclose more of Facebook users’ personally identifying information.

    As I understand Vogelstein’s article, Vogelstein praises Zuckerberg’s objective; Vogelstein writes: “Zuckerberg has pushed the world to that place. He has singlehandedly changed the way the world thinks about privacy in the digital age, and I believe the world is a better place because of it.”

    Respecting Zuckerberg’s chosen method, I find Vogelstein’s view hard to characterize. Vogelstein writes: “To me, that just makes him like every other super-successful entrepreneur I know. You don’t change the world by giving people what they say they want, but by giving them something they didn’t know they needed.” One could read those sentences as primarily descriptive: as an indifferent equation of Zuckerberg’s method to the typical conduct of an entrepreneur who needs to create new demand to successfully market a new product or service. Alternatively, one could read those sentences as implicitly praising Zuckerberg’s method, by inferring from the phrase “You don’t change the world” that Vogelstein is suggesting that changing the world in the way that entrepreneurs typically wish to change the world is desirable. That reading seems consistent with Vogelstein’s earlier, expressly laudatory statement, “the world is a better place because of it.” In any event, I don’t think Vogelstein’s two sentences respecting Zuckerberg’s method can be characterized as criticizing Zuckerberg’s method.

    So, in my view, Vogelstein has fairly clearly stated his argument respecting Zuckerberg’s goal and method. Although Vogelstein’s characterization of the morality of Zuckerberg’s method seems to me ambiguous, the two poles of the ambiguity seem to be indifference and praise; the sentences can’t be fairly read as condemnation of Zuckerberg’s method. Therefore, Vogelstein seems justified in responding, “Perhaps u should write the piece u would have liked me to have written.” Accordingly, in my view, the burden now shifts to Professor Rosen to offer a counterargument, rather than merely expressing a wish that Vogelstein had fashioned his argument differently.

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