Facebook recently released a celebration/advertisement of their services to mark its reaching of one billion users*. It’s called The Things That Connect Us and I highly recommend watching it if you haven’t already been linked to it by your friends wanting to have a laugh. The text from the video is as follows
Chairs. Chairs are made so that people can sit down and take a break. Anyone can sit on a chair. And if the chair is large enough they can sit down together. And tell jokes. Or make up stories. Or just listen. Chairs are for people. And that is why chairs are like Facebook. Doorbells, airplanes, bridges. These are things people use to get together so they can open up and connect. About ideas. And music. And other things that people share. Dance floors. Basketball. A great nation. A great nation is something people build so that they can have a place where they belong. The universe. It is vast. And dark. And makes us wonder if we are alone. So maybe the reason we make all of these things is to remind ourselves that we are not.
Various spoofs have already appeared, as is the internet’s wont, as well as Facebook communities, tumblr accounts and articles discussing the confusing meaning behind the ad. While hilarious in some respects, I actually find the message a little disturbing.
First of all, for a company that talks about opening things up for us to make our own connections, and regularly championing the concept of openness, I believe it’s telling that they’ve removed the commenting and voting features on the YouTube video**.
The main concern is that it purports Facebook as being for everybody – ‘Anyone can sit on a chair’, using wide demographics as subjects, etc. – while behind the scenes doing absolutely nothing to address real concerns about its policies that marginalise. I offer a revision:
Chairs are for people. As long as they feel comfortable using a name Facebook determines is valid for all of their interactions with others. And that is why chairs are like Facebook. Oh, wait . . .
And there’s this one great moment in the video (0:18) where a young person is putting a doll on a small chair. Presumably, now that Facebook has seen this they will move in and remove the doll for violating the chair’s policy of not using pseudonyms.
Actually, I believe one metaphor introduced in the short video is fairly accurate, though not for the reason intended: ‘airplanes’. They’re an exclusionary technology. They help you better connect with others, but there’s a significant cost involved – privacy, security, safety – making it realistically unavailable to many. Panics about security fears lead to the removal of civil liberties and then the service becomes worse for everybody.
Facebook is getting bigger every day. According to their numbers, about one in every seven people use the service worldwide, and this fraction is considerably higher in some locations. But at least with air travel there is the sense that an elected government*** has some level of regulatory control. Facebook is a company who have complete authoritarian control over dictating the terms of discourse on a social platform that (apparently) one seventh of the global population use.
Are we comfortable with this? I know I’m not.
* I don’t believe they’ve actually reached this number yet. See my recent discussion on Facebook numbers for some of the reasons why. Despite whatever the real number is, it’s still considerably large, and it’s not that useful to focus on the details. But because I’m talking about it now anyway, I might estimate that, conservatively, at least one in every nine people globally, rather than one in every seven, relate to a legitimate, personal Facebook account.
** I can’t be sure if it was like this originally, but both commenting and voting were disabled on October 9 when I first saw the video.
*** Obviously, this varies country to country.
ETA: Facebook say they have reached ’1 billion monthly active users on September 14 at 12.45 PM Pacific time’. Mentions of the ’1 billion’ number I saw elsewhere just said ‘users’, not ‘active users’. the latter suggests the number of legitimate users is closer to the stated 1 billion than I thought in my notes above.