By Sergio Toporek
Feb 22, 2013
Dear Mark, I hope this letter reaches you, and finds you well.
First of all, allow me to congratulate you on your well-recognized achievements. Not everyone creates a telecommunications platform that redefines the way in which we all connect. I became a big fan of Facebook after incorporating it to my transmedia project Beware of Images. The project is aimed at generating media literacy awareness, and Facebook was helping us reach that goal. It was simple and worked perfectly, people became members, and they received our updates. However, as I write to you today, I am very frustrated and disappointed with the platform’s current direction.
I don’t know, and probably will never know about the problems and responsibilities of running a multi-billion dollar corporation. I am certain that managing a platform of almost a billion users, with all its technical, social, legal and economic complexities, must be a daunting task.
Still, it has become evident to anyone using the platform for community-building, that its recent direction is not guided by technological limitations, but by economic pressures. On my page, I have seen activity decline drastically, even as it constantly gains new members. When I finally received a reply from Facebook regarding this issue, I was advised to address it by spending on Promoted Posts.
I have made great sacrifices to pay for Facebook ads, and they have helped me gain new members. Directing an independent, not-for-profit project, I can’t afford to spend more on your platform than what I already do. Truthfully speaking, after investing much time, money and effort building a community which I’m now being limited to reach, I find Facebook’s current practices disconcerting. Not only because you’re preventing me from reaching members I’ve already paid to connect with, but because you’ve basically broken your own functioning system in order to sell us the solution.
But this is about much more than my little media literacy page, and that’s the reason I wanted to communicate with you.
I know that we live in an age of entitlement, which certainly accounts for many of the complaints you receive constantly. But there must be more than that when a free service, which by all means should be loved by its users, finds itself listed as one of the most hated companies in America.
In my opinion, this is not because Facebook is not an amazing tool, but because despite its huge public-benefit potential, the company is choosing to move in the opposite direction. Also because users who have noticed this trend, and have expressed their concerns, feel targeted or ignored. Still, I’ll give it another shot.
I know that you’ve become one of the wealthiest men on the planet, but that alone does not impress me. I am impressed by Jonas Salk, the American virologist who developed the polio vaccine in 1955. At a time when polio was considered the most frightening public health problem of post-war America, Salk released his vaccine to the public domain. Make no mistake, he could have become a millionaire from his discovery, but he chose not to. Asked in an interview who owned the patent to the vaccine, Salk replied: “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
I’m sure Mr. Salk understood that, unlike the sun, the polio vaccine was his achievement. He also understood what was riding on it, and how beneficial it could be for society at large.
I admire your achievements, but I’m beginning to doubt that Facebook, as a corporate entity, understands what’s riding on them or how beneficial they can be for society at large. Losing sight of this would be Facebook’s most regrettable mistake. How are millions of nonprofits to communicate and organize, when it becomes impossible to do so without spending money? What role will social media play the next time people are being oppressed by a dictator, but must pay to have their voices heard?
Originally, the Internet was praised as an unrestrained cultural equalizer, but many media critics –myself included– have been doubtful of this being an inherent quality of the medium. All previous telecommunication technologies began as open, and to a certain extent decentralized, only to become closed and monopolized. The World Wide Web does feature a decentralized structure guided by open standards, but as a layer of new proprietary platforms is laid above it, such characteristics are being seriously suppressed.
During the early 1940s, techno-utopians predicted the end of the public school system, as we were all going to receive educational programming through our TVs. Spreading over the public airwaves, it was assumed that TV programming was going to serve the public good. We all know how the monetization of markets through advertising transformed traditional media. It became a cluster of monopolized systems where money equals speech, and where society is perceived as little more than a segmented group of consumers.
It saddens me to see that this is exactly the direction in which you’re taking Facebook. For all the talk about how creative and revolutionary new media is, it has not been very creative about its monetization paradigm. Instead, it is slowly becoming just another environment where the old rules apply; where commercial and corporate interests topple social ones, and where only the wealthy can afford to reach a large audience.
Being a commercial visual-communicator for over two decades, I have serious worries about how advertising has corrupted all previous media technologies. After a decade of teaching media literacy, my goal today is to use my skills and knowledge to generate awareness about the subject. I’ve practically abandoned my commercial practice to produce an independent documentary about the history, regulation and social effects of media.
I’ve gone from having savings and a steady income to having debt and uncertainty, but I believe the goal is worth the sacrifice.
According to the Facebook website, you also have a goal, and it is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”
I’m convinced that if there’s anyone in the world that has the talent, ability and resources to achieve this, it is you. Your livelihood is not at risk, so why are you compromising? Whatever sacrifices you may have to make, they’ll be worth it, as your goal is a noble one.
As an advertising tool, Facebook will still connect millions around the world, but only as a consequence of a different goal and guiding principle. A goal to monetize its user-base by managing, controlling and limiting the way people share and connect. The exact opposite of its stated mission. Please, do not let this happen.
I hope you can accept this letter as my way of providing honest, positive and constructive feedback. Be sure that, however you may choose to approach it, I still wish you all the best.
As for me, I’d like to see my little page working properly again. But more than anything, I’d love to see a new generation of leaders acting responsibly, with the greater good as their guiding principle. We need fewer billionaire CEOs pandering to shareholders, and a few more Jonas Salks.
Thanks in advance for your attention.
Director, Beware Of Images