No, Facebook doesn't need better "self-regulation." We need better laws to protect us from Facebook

By Yasha Levine , written on July 5, 2014

From The News Desk

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, Silence the pianos and with muffled drum...

...Dave Winer, blog pioneer and arbiter of all that is right and wrong on the Internet, has weighed in on the FBULTRA scandal.

In a post titled "About Facebook users and Facebook," Winer criticizes the social network megacorp for experimenting on users like lab rats. To Winer, Facebook's experiment broke the most important rule of social networks: it made people aware that they're being watched.

This isn't just a PR blunder for Facebook, argues Winer, but an existential threat:

That last one is probably the biggest issue for Facebook. If they want their service to work, long-term, they have to have suspension of disbelief, like a good book or movie. You're inducing a trance. We're being captured by the story. If the real story is scientists in lab coats, with notebooks, measuring us like lab rats, well that might be good for a while, a social network for lab rats, but I'm going to probably not spend ALL my time there, and probably only if I'm sort of kinky and into S&M a little...

So that's the problem. Facebook just broke the fourth wall. Of a sudden we see the man behind the curtain. And it's ugly and arrogant and condescending and all around not a nice feeling. I agree with Winer on this. Keeping society ignorant and naive is key to the survival of Facebook (and many other Silicon Valley companies). They can only truly prosper as long as they can keep people duped and thinking that they're sharing their life — their feelings, experiences, ideas, private thoughts and moments — only with their friends and family, and not with a multibillion megacorp that makes money by surveilling and profiling them.

It's his proposed "solution" — the need for better Facebook self-regulation — that I'm not sure about.

Winer suggests that Facebook adopt "something like the code of ethics that news organizations have." He also wants Facebook to get rid of its bad apples: "clean house, people who don't understand the role of facilitator, and feel like gods, should go."

Seriously, Dave? Do you really think this is all the fault of a couple of rogue agents within Facebook? And that scapegoating a handful of employees, and then promising to be a better corporate citizen next time will fix the company's for-profit surveillance model?

Winer seems to spend a lot of time complaining about tech's ingrained ageism, and the industry's failure to realize that older techies like him have something that the younger folks lack: wisdom and experience.

But even in all his beautiful wrinkled wisdom, Winer doesn't realize the extremely obvious: what's really needed here are real laws protecting real people from being constantly spied on and tested like lab rats for profit.

But, of course, that would go against the very nature of Surveillance Valley's business model — and against the hallowed techno belief in the power of the market to sort everything out.

Maybe certain tech biases don't change, no matter how old or young you are.


Want to know more? Read Pando's coverage of Surveillance Valley...