With ‘new name’, Facebook can pretend it’s a social network – and not a tech company

Founder’s speech was another attempt to fool US congressmen to help them sell internet to their constituents The stark choice is red or blue. In his first public appearance since Mark Zuckerberg was grilled…

With 'new name', Facebook can pretend it's a social network – and not a tech company

Founder’s speech was another attempt to fool US congressmen to help them sell internet to their constituents

The stark choice is red or blue.

In his first public appearance since Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by US Congress, the Facebook founder told Republican and Democratic lawmakers that his group does not see itself as a technology company, but rather a social business. The move was an obvious attempt to mollify key lawmakers – most of whom are Democrats – who might claim that they were being taken to task, at least in part, by a tech titan.

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“It’s a reminder that it’s not that they don’t believe in this technology – they do,” said Rebecca Lieb, analyst at Altimeter Group. “It’s just that they’re a technology company that just happens to do this, too.”

But in doing so, Zuckerberg is committing to the same problematic model that he used to justify, the misuse of user data. And like Mark Zuckerburg before him, he is arguing that Facebook is not a tech company – just a social one.

Zuckerberg’s testimony on Tuesday – similar to Zuckerberg’s Senate testimony from April – was largely like the defence that has come to define his testimony on the Senate floor, said Julia Angwin, managing editor of the watchdog Consumerist. He argued that it is necessary to honour user privacy and that companies like Facebook, LinkedIn and others just need to change their designs so that they are less of a replacement for real-world social interactions, like Facebook or its rival Instagram.

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The shift comes as Zuckerberg faces mounting criticism from both the left and the right. While some conservatives have urged his company to crackdown on so-called fake news, Democrats have questioned the board’s credibility and have called for a special prosecutor to look into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

Like in April, Zuckerberg didn’t appear to have changes in store. Instead, he acknowledged Facebook’s failure to anticipate recent changes in how people use and interact with the platform. If the company did, Zuckerberg suggested, the social network would have asked whether some users would view news as a source of original information or as news – a distinction that Zuckerberg admitted the company didn’t fully understand.

“I can think of more Facebook products that would benefit from a new name and new way of thinking,” said Alison Goldman, a communications professor at the University of Kentucky. “Given the way [that] other media companies are spinning themselves and the misinformation wars are being fought, the whole social networking or social media thing might not be the best fit for any of them.”

Facebook is full of misleading constructs that block the free exchange of ideas. It’s like owning newspapers and simultaneously dismissing their competency. https://t.co/pyGLOUH8bv — rick rex (@rickrex1977) June 4, 2018

It’s a needingly simple problem, Goldman said, and one that the company would have best served to address by pivoting away from social networking or into some other market-facing enterprise, such as news.

Instead, while the change has little to do with the real problems with Facebook – namely, how to stop Russian oligarchs buying ads on the platform and exploiting its automated systems to spread misinformation – it nonetheless is intended to help the company avoid criticism from lawmakers.

“The bigger problem for Facebook has always been how to persuade people not to use it,” said Sarah Levy, director of the Center for the Study of Digital Democracy. “The changing name is an attempt to change the cause of the problem from what it was in the past – which was something about how people used it – to this problem with disinformation.”

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