David Kirkpatrick: What is the Facebook Effect?

The author of The Facebook Effect talks to FSD about privacy, anonymity whether the social network plans to go into China.

For David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, the social network uniquely gives individuals the power of broadcast, something which has historically been controlled by a small elite (1min). Kirkpatrick, who spent months with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg to conduct research for the book, says that while the company is the “manifestation of the vision and will of one individual … on balance it’s been for the better” (2mins 12secs). On Zuckerberg’s flaws, Kirkpatrick says that he has a “certitude, shall we say, about the inevitability of sharing and transparency … If he’s wrong, then the whole thing falls apart” (3mins 36secs). According to Kirkpatrick, it is unlikely that a competitor to Facebook will emerge but instead “something fundamentally new” (6mins 7secs).

Kirkpatrick argues that while Facebook may have implemented its privacy controls “clumsily”, privacy is not irrelevant to the company (15mins 14secs). However, for Kirkpatrick, concerns about privacy are usually voiced by those in social elites. “There really is very little evidence that the average user of Facebook is terribly concerned about privacy,” he says (16mins 5secs). Developing his argument further, he adds that Facebook is returning its users to an earlier condition of humankind, before urbanisation (18mins 48secs). “And what Facebook does is in effect recreate that over-the-backyard-fence of the village intimacy,” he says. So does Kirkpatrick think Facebook will go into China? He says the company certainly wants to and may even be wiling to hand over user information to the Chinese government in order to gain a foothold in the country (23mins). “But they have a big PR problem if they do that,” he says.

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford. www.freespeechdebate.ox.ac.uk

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