Facebook Thinks You're Stupid

Basing your communication with users on the idea that you're smart and your customers are dumb will lead to failure every time.
Posted February 18, 2009

Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

Facebook quietly changed its terms of service agreement (TOS) recently. Bloggers freaked, triggering a public uproar that forced Facebook to revert back to the older version and come up with a better TOS agreement.

The Facebook TOS always said, essentially, that the good people at Facebook can do anything they want with pictures and other content you upload. Those goofy pictures you uploaded of you and your high school buddies? Yeah, Facebook owns those.

The old, re-posted version of Facebook's TOS had a thin thread of user control in the form of an explicit termination of the full license when you delete something. The now-revoked new version took that away.

Here's what they (temporarily) changed. First, they removed the following passage:

"You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content."

And they added this:

"The following sections will survive any termination of your use of the Facebook Service."

The changes implied that anything you upload to Facebook belongs to Facebook forever, even after you delete everything and cancel your account, if that were even possible.

The mea culpa for this debacle came from CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a Facebook posting, in which he makes the case that Facebook needs such rights in order to legally facilitate user content sharing.

All of this — the terms of service, the stealth editing thereof, the revocation and Zuzkerberg's explanation — demonstrates that Facebook suffers from a disease I like to call "People Is Stupid Syndrome," or PISS. Facebook treats users like their puny pea brains can't handle either the basics of corporate legal protection or recognize when they're being talked down to or manipulated.

Because we Facebook users are both individually and collectively stupid, Facebook reasoned, we wouldn't notice the change, wouldn't understand it if we did, and would be consoled by Zuckerberg's condescending and misleading post.

If Facebook had respect for the collective intelligence of users, it would have been very public about the change, would have explained why they were doing it in advance, and wouldn't have been so slippery when communicating about the terms of service.

Zuckerberg implies, for example, that the whole thing is about Facebook protecting itself legally in its role as the facilitator of content sharing. But if that's the case, why do the Facebook terms of service grant Facebook the right to, say, "publicly perform" your content, and to use your "name likeness and image for"... "commercial or advertising" purposes and other rights that have nothing to do with user content sharing?

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with Facebook's terms of service, per se, and there are probably good reasons for everything in there. We live in a litigious society, social networks really do challenge musty old copyright and trademark laws -- and none of that is Facebook's fault. The problem is that Facebook thinks users are too stupid to care about or understand the reasons behind its terms of service agreement.

Facebook isn't alone. PISS is pandemic in technology. Companies of all sorts insult our intelligence when, for example, they sell wasteful and toxic gadgets as "green"; or when they slap the buzzword du jour, such as "cloud computing" on their old and busted products.

The worst case in recent memory is Microsoft's disastrous "Mojave Experiment" publicity stunt. Microsoft demonstrated its utter distain for the intelligence of its customers by building a multi-million dollar marketing campaign around the idea that Windows Vista's bad reputation was all just a big misunderstanding. People don't really hate Vista. They're just too stupid to realize that they actually love it.

To prove their case, Microsoft organized a series of phony focus groups where participants were shown an upcoming version of Windows, code-named "Mojave." Except it wasn't "Mojave," but plain-old Vista. Participants weren't allowed to touch, let alone take home, install, configure and live with, "Mojave" — they were just supposed to sit there and dumbly watch some expert demonstrate neato features on laptops configured and optimized by Microsoft engineers. And let me tell you, these rubes were impressed!

Never before has so much money been invested in insulting people.

Look, the fact is that some users really are idiots. But some are geniuses. And most are sensible, intelligent people.

The point is that basing your communication with users on the idea that you're smart and your customers are dumb will lead to failure every time.

Facebook, Microsoft and the rest of the industry: Stop PISSing people off!

Tags: Facebook, Windows, Microsoft, Vista

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