When I tried to read Mark Zuckerberg’s new Facebook post about the importance of Facebook user privacy, the first thing that happened was that Facebook tried to make me log in, so it could track me as I read it. Facebook is a sealed box of concealed purposes taped shut with lies, but as a visible entity, it is as straightforward to interact with as a cat that’s trying to get outside and kill birds. It will sneak out and kill the birds eventually anyway, but you don’t have to open the door for it. You just refuse to give it any opening, and shove it back if it tries to follow you.
Everything Mark Zuckerberg writes, meanwhile, is as if the cat were telling you, at tedious length, about the natural affinity the cat has for sunshine, how the only thing better than lolling in a sunbeam is going out into the full light of day, breathing the fresh air, feeling the lawn under its toes, doing those sorts of things that a cat loves to do, etc. Frankly, some people have expressed some concerns about bird-related issues, and the cat is working very hard to win their trust.
The communications of two billion people are governed by this person. Now and then his message referred to “society” as if it were identical to “Facebook.” This was less alarming than it might have been, because words don’t quite exactly have meaning when they come from Zuckerberg. The distance between its real business and its user experience is so vast, the founder’s words have no useful relationship with reality. He is a bullshitter, in the philosophically defined sense of indifference to truth. We are ruled entirely by bullshitters now, constructing a bullshit reality of unreality we have no power to do anything about.
Zuckerberg does not even deliver the hot, stimulating bullshit of the president. Donald Trump never says a true thing, but his aim is to say things that cause feelings, in himself or others, to substitute for the reality he doesn’t want to face. Zuckerberg’s bland clammy falseness is designed to numb people, to repel any sort of curiosity or analysis before it might reaches inside his black box of black boxes, so his machines can get back to vivisecting the human mind without being challenged.
So yesterday his theme was privacy. What does privacy mean to Mark Zuckerberg? He can buy his neighbors’ houses and empty them out so no one can afford to come near him; he can delete his own Facebook messages; he can opt out of everything the world is forcibly opted into.
This was some of what he had to say:
I believe we should be working towards a world where people can speak privately and live freely knowing that their information will only be seen by who they want to see it and won’t all stick around forever. If we can help move the world in this direction, I will be proud of the difference we’ve made.
The only meaningful term in there was “their information,” which is a familiar piece of Facebook code—meaning, as always, only the information that a particular person posts, not the information that other people post about them, and not the near-limitless, unimaginably intrusive dossier of information that Facebook compiles by tracking everything they do and linking it to every other piece of data the company can scrape up or buy about them. The purpose of Zuckerberg’s whole message was to not talk about that, but to talk about another, narrower thing, a promise to combine Facebook’s various different messaging services into a unified, encrypted service.
I understand that many people don’t think Facebook can or would even want to build this kind of privacy-focused platform—because frankly we don’t currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services, and we’ve historically focused on tools for more open sharing.
Zuckerberg was reassuring people—frankly—that they will be able send messages without worrying about Facebook reading them. Facebook knows too much about its users to bother reading their messages. Protecting the contents of their messages is the kind of privacy that doesn’t matter to Facebook, except if it can convince people who are worried about Facebook’s monitoring of them not to leave Facebook:
As I think about the future of the internet, I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today’s open platforms. Privacy gives people the freedom to be themselves and connect more naturally, which is why we build social networks.
This was so guileful it came out guileless. This is why Facebook builds social networks: to get people feel like they can act as themselves, and connect up with each other, so that sense of self and their human connections can be sold to advertisers. It’s a bright, beautiful world out there. Open the door.