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Facebook dances around Holocaust controversy

Ian Paul | May 12, 2009
The social networking site has landed in hot water again, this time for refusing to shut down Holocaust denial groups.

The failure to understand another core value of its user base, privacy, gave Facebook headaches in 2007 with the now-defunct Facebook Beacon. The idea behind Beacon was to allow users to share, within Facebook, reports of purchases and other actions made on sites outside of the social network. That basic concept was, on its face, not a bad idea since the whole point of Facebook is to share information. However, Facebook failed to take into account the natural desire of its users to keep some actions and purchases private and to have the power to chose when to share (and with whom) and when not to.

Facebook got itself into another controversy over conflicting values with the recent Terms of Service debacle. When Facebook changed its TOS many believed the social network was attempting to covertly claim ownership of users' personal property including photographs, videos, and personal messages. When Facebook's user base found out about the TOS change, they hit the site with a huge backlash, including the threat of legal action, eventually causing Facebook to revise its TOS with user input.

Let me be clear that I am not trying to say there is a moral equivalency between issues of genocide and privacy. I am only saying that time and again Facebook has been forced to back off from its policies due to poor decision making because it gave too much consideration to one priority while failing to honor other core values of its members including privacy, freedom of choice, protection for minorities and property rights -- not to mention common sense. Someday the site might figure it out, but for now Facebook is caught in a cycle of poor decision-making which leads to heavy criticism followed by a sharp reversal in policy. I suspect the Holocaust denial issue will play out similarly.


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