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Facebook needs transparency, not apologies

Social network reverted to its original terms of service because of a public outcry, one which was only necessitated because Facebook hadn't been transparent upfront.

In the face of mounting criticism over its change to its terms of service, Facebook has reverted to its original terms of service, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg issued an apology. It's a nice about-face, but it also misses the point.

The point, as Techdirt intimates, is transparency.

It's hard to think that nobody at Facebook anticipated it and took some proactive steps to address the changes and attempt to allay concerns and preclude the overreaction.

Instead, Zuckerberg responds only after the fuss has been kicked up, and his explanation comes off as damage control, regardless of the motivations behind it or the TOS change...The point isn't that Facebook or any other company shouldn't change their TOS to better reflect their businesses and technology, but that in this day and age, any "minor" change is going to attract lots of scrutiny, and, in all likelihood, will be misunderstood and misinterpreted. This makes the handling of the change much more important than the change itself.

In the Internet Age, companies need to assume that any changes they make to policies, procedures, etc. will become public, and act accordingly. It's no longer a matter of what is legally required to be divulged, but what is socially responsible to divulge.

Transparency, for example, would have served IBM and Novell well in their recent layoffs. Legally, neither was required to publicly announce the layoffs because the number of employees affected wasn't material to the business. But "material" is in the eye of the beholder, and by not talking openly (inside or outside the companies) about the layoffs, both Novell and IBM ended up fanning the flames of rumor. It's unrealistic to expect such events to happen quietly: the Internet is too noisy.

The point is transparency--doing more than the law requires one to do. The alternative is perpetual damage control, which seems to be Facebook's modus operandi. This reminds me of a comment from The Misfit in Flannery O'Connor's Good Country People who, commenting on a self-righteous but flawed woman, says, "She would of been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

I've read reports that only the media and privacy advocates care; that the terms-of-service change didn't matter to the rank-and-file users of Facebook.

This may be true, but that's equally true for just about any important (and many unimportant) issue. We rely on the media and interest groups to ferret out those things that "don't feel quite right" in politics and business.

Companies need to be more transparent. The Internet will force them to be so, but as with Facebook, transparency looks much better when it's voluntary rather than forced.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.