The Duck of Minerva

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Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg: “We Decided That These Would Be the Social Norms Now”

January 12, 2010

I am so prepped already for social constructivism day in my World Politics 121 class. Check out Zuckerberg’s answer to the second question (about 3:00). Zuckerberg claims that the new changes to FB privacy settings – which make it impossible to protect your photos and extremely difficult to prevent “everyone” from knowing your current affiliations and other information previously shared only with those you choose – are simply FB’s efforts to reflect [Zuckerberg’s understanding] of “current social norms” on the Internet:

“We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are… We decided that these would be social norms now, and we just went for it.”

So instead of allowing the social norms to evolve naturally through user choice, Zuckerberg has decided what they will be and imposed them architecturally on millions of users. But is justifying them based on the idea that they were already there. Fascinating.

Zuckerberg has been widely misquoted as saying “the age of privacy is over,” which I don’t hear in this clip. However he does seem to imply that since people are choosing to share more information than ever, that they don’t care about the ability to make that choice themselves. On whether this is indeed a “social norm,” Zuckerberg needs to go read some basic social theory. Constructivists would say that the evidence as to whether a social norm exists is whether people react badly when you break it. I think the uproar over the FB privacy changes is enough to prove him wrong on this point.

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.