Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Facebook Fascists Blitz the King

First, Nipplegate. Now this: Facebook pressures Burger King to shut down its "sacrifice ten friends for a free Whopper" promotion app. Dunno which is worse — that Facebook's oligarchs are foisting a John Ashcroft sensibility about areolas as a community norm, or that they're now regulating speech on their servers to protect their own self-interest.
Spokespersons for both companies quickly went to work to spin the awkward, rat-smelling resolution to this controversy. Burger King's went on about what a "great sport" Facebook was about the promotion, before explaining that it had "decided to conclude the [friends-for-Whoppers] campaign." Facebook's mike-monger went positively Orwellian:
We encourage creativity from developers and companies using Facebook Platform, but we also must ensure that applications meet users' expectations.

Uh, speaking of Whoppers — wha? Just how did Burger King's app fail the expectations of users? The King offered a coupon for a free Whopper for every ten deleted friends. As I understand it, that's exactly what His Flame-Broiling Majesty delivered.

Let's be clear what happened here. Facebook didn't like the Burger King campaign, because the "network effect" principle says that Facebook makes more money if Facebook users have more friends. Facebook regarded a friends-for-Whoppers trade as an existential (if ultimately not very serious) threat to its business model, it threatened to kick Burger King off Facebook, and BK caved.

The logical extreme of this policy, of course, is that Facebook ultimately requires a satisfactory explanation from any user before he/she can delete a friend.

I suppose this is the price we all pay when we sign up for our free accounts: we play by Facebook's rules. There's no "free speech" issue here per se, as these are Facebook's servers, and they can host whomever they choose and impose whatever conditions they want. But neither can it be said that we're all privileged beneficiaries of Facebook's programming and hosting largesse — sure, we get to "throw squids" at each other and take "personality tests" that match us up with pop stars, but in exchange they're compiling a gigantic database chock full of our personal information to review, parse, dissect, and sell to advertisers for tons of money.

So maybe it's not too much to ask for just the slightest of revisions to our "social contract" with these guys: e.g., how's about when somebody like BK comes up with something brilliant and funny, you tip your hat to them and let 'em get on with their business, even if the joke's just a little bit on you? In consideration of this promise, we'll agree not to call you a bunch of soulless profiteering assheads.


Mithridates said...

Things is I have plenty of facebook "friends" whose friendship with me is worth much less than one tenth of a Whopper. The great thing about the app is that it forces you to find the exact cutoff point.

I mean, I have some friends way under the bar and some way over, but there's no way around it, there are going to be some tough decisions to make . . .

Mithridates said...

Moreover, I'm not sure that Facebook is making good use of all their demographic information. I'm listed as "single" and "interested in women" which means all the ads I get are for various services offering to introduce me to female singles. The only hint I received that they're more sophisticated than that came right after making a post about India when the ads started reading "Meet Indian singles".

Unknown said...

For the record Mithridates de-friended me on Facebook within the last 30 days. I wonder who the other 9 were and hope you enjoyed the Whopper.

I wonder if Burger King India will launch a similar program where you have to de-friend 10,000 friends for one chicken Maharaja King

Mithridates said...

Ha. I don't know what BK's version of the King is called, but I'm sure it's equally wretched. But that might be troublesome over there. With Mumbai's concentration of people and IT skills, I'm sure someone would come up with a way to game the system and bankrupt the place.

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