Dear Mr. Zuckerberg: Hi. You don’t know me. At least I don’t think you do. But I thought I would write and offer some thoughts about your current problems.
Do you even know what you have done? Yes, I know you’re a really brainy guy and all, but to paraphrase my late mother-in-law, sometimes someone can be so smart that he actually is not.
You invented something really wonderful. A way for people to connect with one another. A way to bring together people who have things in common. It started with students at the same school. It has progressed to a place where I could keep in contact with family and friends I don’t often see and even to becoming friends with people I have never met in person – and maybe never will, but with whom I have common interests. How wonderful is this, right?
Now I understand that this is not just a hobby for you. It would be great if you sort of acted as host for this great big party and the rest of us got to get a free ride based on your work, but I am a big boy and understand that the world does not work this way. This is why I have been more than willing to accept a few advertisements to pay the bills so that I can make use of this great service.
But then you kept going. You kept futzing with your algorithms and formulas so that it is less easy to see what my friends are up to and easier to see pages of groups that you think I should be interested in. Thanks, but . . . I would prefer to decide for myself what I would like to see coming across my news feed.
Then you started to put the “News” into the newsfeed. Only some of it turned out not to be news after all but sensational sounding items that sounded like something big but turned out to not be, well, true.
You got a little intrusive when you wanted my friends and I to “poke” each other – not only did this sound a little strange but I kind of thought that once I established a friendship with someone I would have to do something affirmative to back away from it. Like in real life.
And then you have started to get into selling stuff and keep asking me if I want to sell stuff too. You have also begun to get involved in politics. Some viewpoints are OK and others are not. Some within the normal range of the spectrum of ideas seem to have more trouble getting through the system than others. Diamonds and Silk are really a menace? Thanks for keeping my safety right up there at the top of your agenda, but . . . .
All of these things have been annoyances, but I understand that you can’t just stand still. Slowly, however, I have come to a horrifying realization – I am both your customer and at the same time I am the product that you are selling to others. Even worse, I don’t even get a cut because you get all of my data and personal information for free. Don’t I get to pick which one I want to be?
You took a platform of “social media” and turned it into a big data farm. Somehow we went from seeing ads for insurance companies and car manufacturers to me becoming the thing being sold to your big-money customers, the advertisers.
Perhaps you have not noticed but your original fanbase pulled up and moved on quite some time ago. Older Millennials seem to have noticed these changes earlier than we old codgers did. Are you assuming that those of us still here will stick it out longer because we are just not hip enough to latch onto the next new thing that does what you used to do but does it better? Don’t worry, our millennial children and their friends will be sure to set us straight.
Even for those of us who have been willing to put up with your overreaching in order to use what is still good about your place, well we will not be there forever. At some point enough of our Friends will have moved on to something else and the “Facebook Community” will become like one of those inner city Detroit neighborhoods that were left with only one or two houses standing on an entire block.
May I make a suggestion? You need to decide what you want Facebook to be. Is it a social network where most everyone can come and hang out with their friends, even if we have to put up with a little advertising? A place where we can share information about ourselves in ways that benefit us and those we share with? And maybe we can come there to read a wide variety of things from many different authors and media outlets, so that you become like a big clubhouse with a nice library.
Or are you going to be a giant media and commerce portal where we will be invited to come and browse, read and shop and where you will be the provider of the products, news and entertainment? Under either of those models I will know my role and I will be OK with it. Lounging space or Amazon II, I really don’t care. But you have to pick one. Because right now, you seem to be trying to do both. Which makes you look like one of those greedy old rich guys with the starched collars and big whiskers from the political cartoons of an earlier era.
Am I overstepping? Good. Because so are you.
Opening artwork: “Let Them Have It All, And Be Done With It!” by Frederick Burr Opper, which originally appeared in the German language version of Puck Magazine in 1882 and is now in the public domain.