Facebook, It’s Not OK to Suck

Facebook users should keep complaining, complaining bitterly, complaining in every possible forum.

Oddly, for all the controversy over Facebook implementing yet another round of changes to its layout and user experience, that controversy has almost been drowned out by arguments over whether it’s appropriate for users to complain about Facebook. Yes, the burning debate among users is over whether there should be a burning debate among users.

Much of the force of the “stop complaining!” camp is rooted in the claim that, hey, after all, it’s a free service and no one’s forcing you to use it anyway. But contrary to what you might have heard, Facebook isn’t optional, and it isn’t free. Let me explain.

First, let’s talk price. Lots of people have already pointed out that while Facebook doesn’t charge users for an account, that doesn’t mean it’s free. The service is supported by advertising, just like TV shows have been since the days of early soap operas. So you are “paying” to use Facebook — you’re paying with your eyeballs. You’re paying with attention, however fleeting, to those ads along the side of the page. And — the more worrying fact — you’re paying with your privacy, as Facebook uses what seems to be increasingly-ornate ways to gather information about you, your preferences, and your web-surfing habits. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Facebook isn’t an exception.

Think of it this way: Facebook is like a gas-station bathroom. It might be “free”, but that doesn’t mean that quality doesn’t matter. In both cases, the “free” service being offered is there as an inducement. In the gas station’s case, it’s an inducement to stop there for gas (and increasingly for snacks, magazines, etc.). In Facebook’s case, being able to post stuff for “free” for your friends to see is an inducement to look at those ads, and to share your web-surfing habits with that advertising agency. So they have reason to want you to be satisfied, and you have every right to demand excellence in return for your attention.

Second, is Facebook optional? Whether a product is optional or not matters, ethically, because when a product is truly optional, customers can simply exit the relationship, either buying the product from someone else or not buying it at all. Given the option to exit, the dispute between producer and consumer evaporates as the two simply agree to disagree and go their separate ways. (The classic source on this is Albert O. Hirschman’s book, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.) But Facebook isn’t optional. Ok, I know. Strictly speaking yes it’s optional. But then, so is email, or having a telephone, or having a car. Optional but, for many of us, functionally essential. In this regard, Facebook is a victim of its own success. It has no real competition, and the service is one that many of us cannot simply walk away from. In essence, Facebook has gained a virtual monopoly on what has become part of our social infrastructure. Complaining about Facebook is no sillier than complaining about the state of your local roads or the consistency of your supply of electricity.

So if you don’t like Facebook’s new layout, or if you don’t like Facebook’s approach to privacy, do not hesitate to complain. You’re well within your rights. And if Facebook listens, you might just help make the on-line world a better place.

12 comments so far

  1. uzsi on

    Nice to see people touching topics such facebook. When you think deeper about all this social network, the power of being able manipulate people using facebook, it appears to be really spooky. Especially, as mentioned in the post, that facebook is optional only speaking strictly, because once you start using it, you understand that you don’t have a lot of choice upon usage of it. Not only some people become, in some way, dependent on it, they pull you towards this universe as well. And this is by far the best way of promotion.
    I really fancy the episode from South Park ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kT_cp2x0qso ) regarding what influence facebook has upon it’s users and, probably worst, the friends of these users, who do not use it (yet). Really believe that it is a great parody and an episode of real life. Especially, since these episodes are created to make people lough (comedy animation)..in this case, laugh from how we live ourselves.
    Seems funny, all that influence… And at the same time, with a sight towards future .. really spooky!

  2. wleideck on

    First I absolutely love that episode of South Park. Great show and actually a good representation of how people are influence by a site such as Facebook. And as you said it is “spooky” how people seem to be so dependent on a site like this, it becomes an essential part of their lives. I like how he shows that it is okay for people to complain about the changes made to Facebook. This also helps Facebook to know what people like and do not like, so why not complain about it?

  3. yf on

    Actually I think facebook is taking advantage of its users, which is much more than users can benefit from it..The more you take the more you should pay…

    How do you think that facebook will have some reaction on our complain or not, and why:)?

  4. Charrolote on

    Everyone wants to show their life on Facebook and wants to know more friends on Facebook,they like Facebook. But however, increasing people complaints there are too much advertisements and also feels unsafe about their privacy. Actually, as mentioned in article, their is no real competitors for Facebook, so , I think we should show our complaints to Facebook in order to get better Facebook.

  5. Sarah on

    I think it’s right that Facebook isn’t really optional anymore. I’m student and this is our main way of communication and it’s really helpful most of the time to coordinate. It often seems as people are rather available online than on their phones.
    But with the changes problems with privacy became worse which is a really serious problem. For me those changes took place because there is a new competitor in this market and if they wouldn’t have changed some things people would have complained also.

  6. Sandra Qvist on

    First, let me just say that I find your blog very interesting and I think you raise important issues and bring good thoughts and ideas. Then I want to share my thoughts regarding the subject in this post. Facebook must be regarded as one of the largest companies in the world in terms of its spread and with all the access to people’s lives, they possess a certain power over mankind. However, it is optional to become a member on Facebook and you as an individual makes a choice when you choose to become so. The question I ask myself though, is what responsibility Facebook as a company has against its members? And a dilemma that arises in my opinion is whether it is okay for children and young people to use Facebook. To what extent can they be protected and do Facebook has any responsibility towards them?

    You are a Ph.D in business ethics and I wonder what your thoughts are regarding this, and if you consider this as an ethical dilemma? Do you think Facebook is a consequence of that world becomes globalized, with this in mind, what do you think Facebook’s obligations are?

    Thanks in advance for taking your time!

  7. Andi on

    First of all I want to mention, that there IS an competitor, namely google+. Facebook has a lot of problems with the privacy settings that must be activated whereby these settings are already activated in google+. Facebook not really lost many people to google+ but I think that quite a few people registered on google’s platform because of this privacy issue.

    To the blog entry itself. I believe that you are right by stating that people should complain about things they dislike. Facebook is (if you just look on the user statistics) the 3rd largest country in the world. This is quite amazing. Facebook has also more money than some real countries. This makes facebook to a kind of country with its own governance and its president Marc Zuckerberg. If facebook is a country then the people “living” in this country should have some voting rights, as well – just to make the place to live a little bit better.
    On the other hand I would understand user complaints as a chance for facebook to make the platform more user-friendly and therefore more interesting for the people.

    But I don’t see facebook as the universal remedy. Facebook (as a government) should take care about the costumers, too. They should respect the wishes and complaints of the people and should make more transparent politics. As Chris mentioned, facebook collects the surfing habits of users (even if they are not logged in while surfing). All websites save a little file named cookie on the computer and by logging in into the platform, facebook collects every cookie and can therefore create user/surfing profiles. Even if a user deletes his account, facebook is still owner of all uploaded pictures and still keeps all data of the user. They just delete the possibility for the person to log in again.

    Therefore the question should be: acts facebook in an ethical way with all the privacy policies and regulations?! Do we really need someone who monitors our behavior all the time or should we just go back to the roots and meet friends in reality and not on facebook?

    For me the decision is pretty clear. For you, as well?!?

    • KS on

      Could you still live without facebook when all of your friends have a facebook account? Doesn’t it make life easier concerning meeting friends in reality as well? In my opinion, nowadays, you often wouldn’t be able to take part in social activities without facebook. It’s a bit sad, but nevertheless true…

      • Andi on

        The answer to this question has less to do with business ethics but here you are.
        Yes, I could live without facebook. I’m one of the older generation and even think that everyone could live without a mobile phone.

        Yes, both make live easier – in a way. But both make us to slaves of the internet and the mobile phone, as well. Life wasn’t so stressed without these things.
        Only one example: in former times you called a friend and asked him whether he wanted to party with you. It was just one quick call and you knew everything you had to know. Now everyone writes many sms/messages to make an appointment and gets nervous if the answer takes a little bit longer than normally. People stress themselves by using these mediums.

        The question is if facebook makes people addicted to the internet or not. I think everyone knows the situation when you have to study and spend hours and hours on facebook or if you are late to an appointment because you forgot about the time while surfing on facebook.
        Facebook is so time consuming that there is less time available to spend with friends in real life.

    • Madeniyat on

      with regard to the privacy, I think , its limiting freedom of action. but on the other hand, it provokes us to be more selective regarding content of your page. as a result, person is less likely to be victim in a case of hacking the page because anyway the Web is not 100%safe place.

      it is really controversial topic to discuss. facebook should be responsible for its users or not as a big corporation for its customers. in my opinion, it should. so, I have a question. is there any law regulations that considers the privacy and other ethical issues connected to social network as facebook?

  8. Tina on

    I think facebook is a really interesting topic to discuss. I am a user of facebook, but I am a little bit scared of it, because when you tipe in your name on google, you can find so many information from facebook and everybody can look at it, even the person is not on facebook. In general it is a good method to stay in contact with friends, but I think as a user you should be aware of the fact that just random people can bulid a profile of you throught the things you have on your page.

  9. […] Facebook, It’s Not OK to Suck […]


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