Outlook: 5 Myths about Facebook

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David Kirkpatrick
Wednesday, September 29, 2010; 11:00 AM

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David Kirkpatrick: Glad to be talking with the readers of the Washington Post about my article "Five Myths about Facebook" and anything else about this world-altering service you want to discuss. With the movie The Social Network debuting tomorrow, there's a lot in the wind about Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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The Critics: Did you read Gene Weingarten's column this week? What do you think he got right and what do you think he got wrong? For whatever it matters, I think he got the banality of Facebook right. Most of life is banal, so that's to be expected. I think he missed the larger transformation in the way we communicate and live our lives via Facebook. In all their banal glory.

David Kirkpatrick: Weingarten, like so many others, seems incapable of grasping Facebook in its entirety. All the things he points out about the banal tedium and idiocy of Facebook status updates etc. are fair points. But Facebook is a system being actively used by 550 million people--that means there are as many different forms of human behavior exhibited there as there are types of people. I wrote my book because in addition to all the silly stuff and "meet me at the mall," there are a huge set of "effects" that I was convinced people didn't understand, in the realms of politics, business, media, marketing, government, identity, privacy, etc. Facebook is far larger, far more impactful, and far more important than Weingarten realizes. He should read my book.

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Privacy: Mr. Kirkpatrick: Is there any reason to trust that Facebook will not, at its sole discretion, release any personal information required to join that it currently states it will not release? Thanks.

David Kirkpatrick:

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Commercial versus social imperatives: Facebook (and Google, Apple, etc.) has changed its terms of service with customers several times, changing the default distribution of their information without consent. Should corporations be subjected to strict 'opt-in' privacy protections that would require explicit user consent when any change to information distribution takes place?Please bear in mind that the vast majority of consumers have no means by which to hold social networks accountable for breaches of trust, or even to find out how their information is being used, sold, exchanged and so on. The legal terms of service that companies use to shield themselves from liability are invariably intentionally complex formulations - often literal fine print - that most users simply click through. How do these considerations factor into your assertion that consumers simply 'don't care about privacy'?

David Kirkpatrick: These are good questions, and you sound like a lawyer. I just base my opinions on the empirical evidence--people willingly reveal astonishing amounts of information about themselves on Facebook.are worth the tradeoffs--knowing what their friends are doing and gaining a much clearer window on the world around them.

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Closing my account: Wish there was a way to permanently shut down Facebook account instead of just deactiviting it.

David Kirkpatrick: There is. Facebook simply requires a period of time between the request and the action because so many users have tried to shut down their account and later had second thoughts and been mad when Facebook could not revive it.

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Facebook privacy: Is it possible for my Facebook friends to find out when, or how often, I have looked at their profile, or wall?

David Kirkpatrick: No. This has never been possible, though many spam and hacking efforts rely on peoples' fear that this could happen. Don't ever join an application which promises to show you how to see who has seen your profile. It is almost certainly an effort to steal your password or do something else nefarious.

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Two types: I guess there a two types of people, one that finds it weird to post a profile picture of themselves online (I'm in that camp) and one that isn't bothered by it at all.

David Kirkpatrick:

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Mark Zuckerberg's Charles Foster Kane: Do you think "The Social Network" would work as a story that was clearly about Facebook but never used the word Facebook and had a character that was to Mark Zuckerberg what Charles Foster Kane was to William Randolph Hearst?Although it would be a harder to film to market since most folks in USA know what Facebook is.

David Kirkpatrick: Yes. I don't see why that wouldn't have succeeded. I think it was easier--and less fair--for them to take the real people and real events and conflate them with things that didn't happen. There are lots of things in the movie which are real and many that aren't.

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Myth #2: As a graduate student studying Public Communications I often discuss social networking and social media sites in class discussions. The idea of self promotion through social media sites has come up and the notion of recreating one's self and image to society.Facebook has given anyone that chance to display themselves however they want to seem to society. Zuckerberg believes that Facebook gives people the chance to be more effective citizens, but does he take into account people who create "fake" personas and different personalities than who they really are? THANKS!

David Kirkpatrick:

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The Conflict of Facebook....: I am really puzzled by some Facebook users. People advocate strongly for privacy rights; yet, they put all their personal information on Facebook for everybody to see. Can you explain this paradox? Thank you...

David Kirkpatrick:

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Why Facebook--I don't get it.: David, Facebook, ick!What is the point? I would rather be spending my time living living my life instead of posting about how "fabulous" I am.How fabulous can I really be if I'm spending hours on Facebook. Seriously.

David Kirkpatrick: Facebook gives each of its members the equivalent of a broadcast platform of the type that formerly was only available to professionals. So when they are upset and want to tell others about anything that concerns them, they are likely to do so on Facebook. Local issues around the country and around the world are being addressed and changed because of Facebook activism. There are plenty of other things happening on Facebook that have nothing to do with fabulosity.

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Where would they go?: If Facebook did something this morning that I found intolerable, where could I go and take all my friends with me?

David Kirkpatrick: You couldn't, so far as I know. You could join another social network like MySpace or Orkut or whatever Google is trying to cobble together, but it would take a very long time to induce all your facebook friends to join you there. This is one of the main glues that keeps Facebook intact and growing--it is hard to leave. One of the other main glues is the photo archives that members have created there. They are loath to give it up.

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Hated slideshows as a kid: Guess I'm old fashion. Looking at pictures of other people's vacations seems like a boring punishment to me.

David Kirkpatrick:

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Twitter: In your conversations with Zuckerberg, did he ever mention the increase in Twitter's popularity and how that has impacted Facebook, if at all?

David Kirkpatrick:

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Presidential warning: Did Pres. Obama warn today's youth about posting pictures of themselves on Facebook.Considering in his own memoirs, he admits to using illegal narcotics and being unfocused and lackluster student, wonder if he would have survived politically if there was a Facebook during his high school days with him and his friends posting on it.

David Kirkpatrick: It's a good question, but I also think you have correctly pinpointed how Obama exemplifies exactly why Facebook is becoming so successful. Bill Clinton got in trouble for saying he smoked pot but didn't inhale. George W. Bush admitted smoking pot and it didn't hurt him. Obama pro-actively, or we might say pre-emptively, announced he had used cocaine--and nobody seemed even to care. This is exactly the kind of historical social dynamics that young people today have intuitively noticed and altered their behavior accordingly. People seem to care less and less about disclosing information about themselves. In addition, there is the interesting phenomenon that the more people reveal about themselves, the less remarkable are the revelations of any individual. It may seem embarrassing or overly revealing to have a photo of yourself drunk at a party on Facebook. However, if many millions of others also have drunken photos of themselves online it may be less problemmatic. And believe me, that is the way most 20-year-olds look at it.

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Anger: As CEO is Mark ever angry/mad or does he shout?

David Kirkpatrick: This is one of the great errors of the movie, whose screenplay opens by saying that Zuckerberg has "a very complicated and dangerous anger." That's just not true. He is among the least angry people I have ever met. I have never heard him shout, and I literally cannot recall anyone ever having told me of an incident in which he did. I'm sure he sometimes shouts--who doesn't?--but it is not a major part of his behavior or personal style.

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A waste of Time and eventually will go away: I'm not a Facebook user and never will be. I'd just like to share a joke that was originally told by Conan. The owners of the Web sites YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are going to create one giant waste of your time Web site named: YOUTWITFACE. Facebook will go the way or CompuServe, AOL, MySpace, etc., and the users of Facebook need to get lives.

David Kirkpatrick: hahaRead some of my other answers here...

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Zuckerberg: Do you think the access you have to Zuckerberg has made you less critical toward him than you would be otherwise?

David Kirkpatrick: years.I criticize him and the company when I think it appropriate, and I have been increasingly critical lately, as I think the company has failed to properly address many of the problems with privacy, for instance. I think Facebook needs a radical overhaul of the way users can manage their friends in groups and insure that only certain people see certain information. It needs to be much easier to manage those processes.

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Places; Phone: What do you think about the new Facebook Places feature? Also, what do you think about the rumors of a Facebook phone?

David Kirkpatrick:

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Google Maps/Earth: Do you envision a future where we can integrate Google/earth maps into Facebook? Mapping locations in social media would be fantastic and Google is the map leader and provides open source integration. The Google/FB relationship will be very interesting in the future.

David Kirkpatrick: Makes a lot of sense. It might more likely happen in partnership with Microsoft, whose maps are in many ways just as good, and often better, than Google's. And yes, the relationship or rivalry between Facebook and Google is going to be one of the most interesting things to watch in coming years.

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thinly veiled fiction route might have been worst for Mark Zuckerberg: If anything, the fictional Charles Foster Kane probably did more to cement to public's ideas about William Randolph Hearst than if Orson Welles had named the character simply William Randolph Hearst and more closely copied the biography of William Randolph Hearst. Plus Orson Welles used other elements of famous rich business tycoons of the day (Charles Foster Kane marrying the niece of the president of the United States being taken from Franklin Delano Roosevelt being one example) and nobody was bothered since "Citizen Kane" was a work of fiction while this "Social Network" is "claiming [to be] based on a true story" status. So maybe Mark Zuckerberg got off easier then if they had gone the thinly veiled fiction route.

David Kirkpatrick: Could be. The problems with The Social Network go back to its being based on the book Accidental Billionaires, which was marketed by Doubleday as non-fiction but which was, even by the author's own admisssion, partly made up. I think that is a dangerous and pernicious way to write about living people, and the moviemakers extended the problem by taking that as the basis for their movie.

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Why all the angst over Facebook?: Why is there so much angst about this social network site? A lot of people act like there's something wrong with you if you're not on Facebook. Then there are the people who refuse to join simply as backlash because it is so immensely popular. I'm not on Facebook because I could never be bothered. I'm still accepted in the world. I still know what's going on. I really don't think it's a life altering decision to be on Facebook or not. So why does everyone act like it is?

David Kirkpatrick:

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Instant messaging: Is it true that Zuckerbarg communicates mostly via AOL Instant Messenger?

David Kirkpatrick: He increasingly uses Facebook chat, but yes, chat and instant messaging on the phone are his two favored mediums of communication. He's not a big e-mailer. And in my opinion he doesn't even post that much on Facebook.

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Lawsuits: In your book you do mention that Zuckerberg did settle out of court with both Saverin (co-founder) and the Winkelvosses twins and Narendra in both lawsuits? Why would this not indicate that facebook could in fact have been a creation of someone else's brain?

David Kirkpatrick:

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Mark Zuckerberg's childhood and family: I haven't seen "Social Network" yet, but is just about Facebook or about Mark Zuckerberg. Confused on this.I guess Mark Zuckerberg must have a father and a mother as well as perhaps siblings and certainly had a childhood. Did any of that make into the movie?

David Kirkpatrick: No-- the movie is about the first year of Facebook, at Harvard and in Palo Alto. There isn't anything at all about his upbringing. In addition, it fundamentally misrepresents his relationships with others, because it portrays him as being desperate to win the attention of a girlfriend who spurned him, when in fact he had a serious girlfriend during this entire period.

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Why the anger?: What I want to know is why are so many people like the "Waste of Time" poster so angry at Facebook? I used to FB, now I don't, but I don't find online forums just to tell FBers that "need to get lives." You know, just like I don't stand outside movie theaters telling people they're wasting their money on a Sandra Bullock film or write letters to the Times to say I never read the Post. (Not "this" Post, of course.) Really, what is that about?

David Kirkpatrick: Ask your local psychologist. I couldn't say, but I agree with you.

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You sound like a cheerleader for Facebook: Are you just a big fan of the network, or do you work for them in some capacity?

David Kirkpatrick: I am a serious journalist who believes in the importance of Facebook and who considers Mark Zuckerberg one of the most impactful people on the planet. I have spent alot of my time explaining why I believe that. I have never gotten a cent from them.

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Cell phones: Why does Mark switch phones every few months. He has gone from BlackBerry to Android to iPhone in under a year. Why is that? Does he use phones for communication THAT much?

David Kirkpatrick: He uses lots of different devices to try them out and to experience Facebook on them, especially now that Facebook's growth is increasingly dependent on mobile.

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Why shouldn't I call it the Facebook movie?: That's what it's about right? I've never used Facebook before - would I still enjoy or appreciate the movie? I assume there will be a lot of things in that movie I won't understand simply because I don't know Facebook.

David Kirkpatrick: I've seen it and it's a very entertaining and engaging movie. It's just not a true telling of the story of Facebook's first year.

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Why all the hate?: If you don't like Facebook, don't use it. I don't get why there are all these "get a life" comments. I've used Facebook to reconnect with many old friends I haven't heard from in 10-20 years. I, and 550 million others, enjoy it. Why does this small but very vocal minority feel so threatened by it?

David Kirkpatrick:

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Jon Favreau: Jon Favreau, a major speechwriter for Barack Obama as both a presidential candidate and now as president, got a photo of himself and another man holding a bottle of beer in their hands while fondling a cardboard cut-out of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Not much happened to Jon Favreau beyond an statement from the White House that he apologized and Secretary of State Clinton accepted. So that's a good example of folks being more accepting. The one tiny footnote is that Jon Favreau is a far less public face of the White House since the cardboard cut-out come to light. So while people are getting more and more used to the drunken photos, we're not at the promised land yet.

David Kirkpatrick: Yes. this story is in my book. I agree with you. btw this photo was posted by one of his "friends" on Facebook.

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Predatory pricing: FB is the biggest networking site with no real competition and it is deeply in debt with no break-even point on the horizon. Shouldn't these facts cause us to worry that the market for social networking sites is badly distorted, with FB demolishing all competitors who must operate as responsible market participants and return a profit?

David Kirkpatrick: I don't think the issue is about money. I think the issue is about network effects and innovation. If you want to use a social network you are almost certainly going to use Facebook, in almost every country in the world, except Russia, Poland, China, Korea, Japan and a couple other countries. If something else comes along that gives us an even better way to communicate, as I think likely, then Facebook could ultimately be replaced by that. It could be this year or it could be in five years.

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Washington, D.C.: I really don't understand why people who hate Facebook so much took the time to come here to tell us all about it. You are on the wrong side of history. Get over it. You probably also said "no one will ever use those new fangled computer thingies. It is just a waste of time" or maybe you were the ones who said "what is this record player? Youth are just wasting time listening to music and it isn't even that good!" There are always people like this but I just chuckle when they come to a forum like this just to express how much they hate it. You don't have to use it, Luddite. You are free to think it is silly but it is not going away. It is here to stay.

David Kirkpatrick:

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gave up on Facebook: I gave up on Facebook because coworkers wanted to be friends and that point I can't be myself (liberal in a conservative world) and high school friends were always posting items bashing Obama and so forth that ended on my wall. So what's the point?

David Kirkpatrick: If Facebook were to offer better group controls so you could, for example, sequester your work friends from your close non-work friends, or your conservative colleagues from your liberal friends, then it would not be much of a problem. As it is, Facebook has not solved this very serious problem. So people like you (and me, in somewhat analogous ways, along with many millions of Facebook users) are reduced to only sharing information we don't care if everyone sees.

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David Kirkpatrick: I enjoyed talking with all of you here today. If you'd like to continue a dialogue about Facebook, I maintain a page on Facebook for discussing the book and the company--www.facebook.com/thefacebookeffectI hope you'll read my book. Thanks -David


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