As I am sure all of you are aware social networking site Facebook made headlines everywhere this week after changing a line in their terms and conditions relating to ownership of users content and photos.
The change to the terms consisted of just a few lines being altered but the results were instantaneous. A wildfire of outraged complaint spread across the internet, one of the early spotters of the change seems to have been ‘Comsumerist’ which posted a damming blog on Sunday which stated that “anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later”. The post is reported to have received somewhere in the region of 300,000 views almost overnight. Bloggers were in uproar, an angry Facebook group opposing the terms grew into an army 120,000 members strong within hours, users threatened to delete their accounts and the headlines went to press the next day.
The front page of the Metro caught my attention as I saw the following headline over someone’s shoulder while squashed onto a packed rush hour train:
Facebook acted quickly, led by Zuckerberg, they refuted the claims on their blog asking for trust by stating that “In reality, we wouldn’t share your information in a way you wouldn’t want,” but this couldn’t stop the tidal wave of anger that was now directed against them. After increased pressure they backtracked and reverted the terms until suitable wording can be found and posted the following on every users page upon log in:
A second wave of both on and offline news articles and blog posts ensued revolving around Facebooks U-turn – from the opposition Facebook group adoring their page with the words ‘VICTORY! YOU SPOKE, and FACEBOOK LISTENED.’ Whist articles elsewhere on and offline took wildly different angles; some praising Facebook’s ability to listen to its members and honesty in swiftly and openly withdrawing the change. Whilst others marked the U-turn as the fearful move of a company realizing it had gone too far. Believing they would otherwise have abused the power the new terms allowed them if they hadn’t been put under such public pressure.
Darren Waters,Technology editor, BBC News website commented in his blog: ‘What’s so surprising about this row is perhaps how naive Facebook would appear to have been.’ And I tend to agree. Facebook, like many free services and social networking sites today, treads a fine line between being everyone’s friend and a corporate enemy of the masses. They need to monetise the site whilst avoiding upset amongst the very loyal user base they need to sell to. Also, they are constantly surrounded by news stories relating to privacy, internet crime and identity theft (and even in a recent Daily Mail headline it is suggested that ‘Using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer’).
In this kind of environment where (bad) news travels at the speed of broadband I think they were naive to think any change in their terms and conditions will cause anything other than a widespread negative response. The fact the change related to such hot and touché topics as privacy and copyright only serve to further what thin ice they must have known they were treading by not ensuring the wording of the terms could not be misconstrued. In our ‘Web 2.0’ society people have an instant and world visible way to vent and rant via blogs, forums, groups and personal websites. Services such as Facebook appear to be seen more as a right than a privilege by the general public and they demand a certain level of service and trust between the site and the user base and are willing to defend it very aggressively if they feel that right is threatened.
Hopefully Facebook will be able to reach a wording specific enough to not cause further anger surrounding this issue, but, unless you really are a dedicated believer that any publicity is good publicity, this will hang around Facebook as bad karma for quite some time, as users are likely to be watching them like hawks – ready to create the next big headline.