|Postcard from Facebook|
A couple of recent articles got me thinking about Facebook. Not the usual "how do I control my privacy" that comes up regularly, but something more insidious.
Regardless of the number of real users the system has, as opposed to the number of accounts, it's a real force for change. More so than any of predecessors managed to be. With this enormous level of influence comes a requirement for a soft touch. A recognition that other cultures are different from the silicon valley norm that surrounds them "at home".
I think this is where Facebook currently fails to deliver, and the two news articles below illustrate recent examples of this. In France, the company tried to impose an American cultural response on an accepted example of French art. Thankfully, it looks as though the clumsy response has failed, at least according to the local legal system.
The Indian issue is less forgivable considering the history of attempts to create "walled gardens" to control internet users. It looks as though this one has failed too, and this time it may take Facebook a lot longer to undo the damage to their reputation in that region.
Regardless of the company's intent, these actions are interpreted as unwanted examples of American cultural imperialism.
However, I do have some sympathy for Facebook, and for other companies who are truely international. It's difficult to create an environment that's responsive to multiple cultural norms, particularly as many of them are mutually contradictory. In France, that painting of a vagina is acceptable, but not in the US. So, how do you protect American sensibilities without alienating French customers?
It's not easy, but it's important to make a proper attempt, rather than impose middle-American values on everyone.