22-year-old Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg delivered the lesson of the year to college (and some high school) campuses nationwide on Tuesday when he unveiled a revamped version of his superpopular, 2-year-old social networking Web site Facebook.com. The addition of a time-stamped “mini-feed” on each member’s page detailing their Facebook mentions and activities has sparked an uproar (that’s the WSJ’s word) as Generation C is slapped with a reality check: there are no secrets on the Internet.
Such a strong reaction in defense of privacy is rare among the teenage and twenty-something generation, which grew up in the era of public disclosure in the form of blogs, videosharing and reality television.
But no longer can Paris Hilton sneak away from a DUI arrest without TMZ on her tail and never again will a Swift Boat hoax turn the tide on an election. Everything is out on the table, and practically everyone is watching. Future presidents are already leaving their paper trail on sites like Facebook. I must congratulate Zuckerberg for providing the 9 million mostly college students who use Facebook the opportunity to look in the mirror and see firsthand just what happens when post content, photos and personal information is posted haphazardly on the Internet. Who knows his true intentions — there is clearly no privacy violated in making it easier for users to read and create the content they signed up for. Tech marketing guru Ed Kohler agrees. So does VC Fred Wilson.
In March, Zuckerberg turned down a $750 million buyout offer and told BusinessWeek he thought Facebook was worth at least $2 billion. 85% of all college students use Facebook, according to TechCrunch, which has prompted university officials to state: “we’ve got alot of catching up to do” as far as keeping tabs on their students. It just got a bit easier — and to be honest, anyone on Facebook could have already been kept track of using RSS.
I spoke to several undergrads today in an Investigative Reporting class and most were shaken by the turn of events. Very few if any in the 14-person class had used MySpace, flickr, or even del.icio.us. But they all use Facebook. The student editors of the Daily Trojan penned a column this week echoing the Facebook wake-up-call: “[B]eyond this lies a simple issue of privacy: How much of your most personal information do you want accessible to anyone who goes, or went, to USC?”
More than anything else, the Facebook lesson helps define how important issues of privacy and of checks and balances on information sharing are as we move forward in the digital age.
UPDATE: Dave Winer chimes in: “Facebook did good. But Facebook also did bad..”
A Day Without Facebook protest blog
Facebook User Groups: Students for Changing the Post Mini-Feed World, The Coalition to Stop Facebook, Stalker Edition
USAToday blog asks: “Has Facebook turned into Big Brother?”
IvyLeak: “WSJ Sends Embedded Journalists to Cover Impending Facebook Coup”