The Blogora: The Rhetoric Society of America


The Changing Face of Facebook

Submitted by John W. Pell on February 1, 2012 - 7:01pm

As expected, Facebook filed for a five billion dollar IPO today. This filing apparently motivated CEO Mark Zuckerberg to pen a letter to Facebook users on the decision to "go public." While I must admit that I am not a consistent Facebook user or an Aaron Sorkin fan (that is, I don't take the "Social Network" as gospel (and, to be honest, I don't even really like the "West Wing" - there I said it)), I still find myself fascinated by Zuckerberg's letter because it feels like it should matter to me given the cultural significance of Facebook. (Moreover, I am teaching a course this quarter on social media and human rights and I can't help but think my students might be interested by this news as well).

What I find particularly interesting about his letter is the emphasis on "social mission." Throughout the piece, which is quite substantial for a text in this genre, Zuckerberg refers to Facebook's mission to create connections both locally and globally. In fact, he goes so far as to say,

"By helping people form these connections, we hope to rewire the way people spread and consume information. We think the world’s information infrastructure should resemble the social graph — a network built from the bottom up or peer-to-peer, rather than the monolithic, top-down structure that has existed to date. We also believe that giving people control over what they share is a fundamental principle of this rewiring."

What I find fascinating is that at one moment Facebook is a "we" that hopes to "rewire the way people spread and consume information" and in the next Facebook is a "we" that is about "peer-to-peer" relationships and not interested in "monolithic" institutional policies. Maybe I am old fashioned, but if your initial S-1 filing is for $5 Billion and you celebrate your over 850 million users (consumers!?) and you want to "rewire" them than I tend to view you as monolithic institution worthy of careful critique and a healthy sense of distrust.

Of course, this is not the narrative Facebook is seeking to construct. The letter opens with the following line:

"Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected."

Again, while I am not avid user of Facebook, I imagine that this type of language is more welcoming than say, "Today Facebook filed its S-1 form and we about to make a ton of money off of all of the information we have collected about you, your friends, and everyone in your photos." That being said, I can't fault anyone for making money off of their business, it is just that calling something a "social mission" seems to distract from the realities of how Facebook functions as a multi-billion dollar corporation.

There is so much that can be said about the appeals made in Zuckerberg's letter and I am including a link to it so that others can offer their insights on the cultural phenomenon that is Facebook...I guess, you could say I am on a social mission to create "blogversation" (is that a term....). That being said, I will imagine that whatever discourse follows is being delivered in staccato fashion while we walk purposefully, side-by-side down an endless hallway ( that is my last Aaron Sorkin reference.)

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