Steve Coll 史蒂夫·科尔
I established a Facebook account in 2008. My motivation was ignoble: I wanted to distribute my journalism more widely. I have acquired since then just over four thousand "friends"——in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, the Middle East, and of course, closer to home. I have discovered the appeal of Facebook's community ——for example, the extraordinary emotional support that swells in virtual space when people come together online around a friend's illness or life celebrations.
Thought its bedrock appeals to friendship, community, public identity, and activism——and its commercial exploitation of these values——Facebook is an unprecedented synthesis of corporate and public spaces. The corporation's social contract with user is ambitious, yet neither its governance system nor its young ruler seem trustworthy. The came this month's initial public offering of stock——a chaotic and revealing event—— which promises to put the whole enterprise under even greater pressure.
There are many reasons to be skeptical about Facebook's I.P.O., which raise $16 billion for the company. For investors, as my colleague John Cassidy has pointed our, the company's founders and early investors are likely to do better with this much-hyped event than individual investors. The offering itself was as visible a disaster as a lead underwriting bank (in this cas, Morgan Stanley) has turned in for some time: Facebook shares have fallen by more than ten per cent; there were trading screwups by Nasdaq; and lawsuits and regulatory investigations into whether Morgan and Facebook properly shared information with investors have already started.
This launch-pad explosion is also one more reason to be wary of what my colleague James Surowiecki has analyzed: Facebook's two-tiered corporate-governance system, which ensures that founder Mark Zukerberg retains firm control,and can't be easily challenged by dissident shareholders, even if he steers badly off course, as highly self-confident men in their late twenties sometimes do.
Those are reasons for investors to be doubtful; at least as worrying is what the I.P.O.-palooza signals about Facebook's sovereignty over citizens, here and abroad. Facebook's sovereignty over citizens, here and abroad. Facebook has become a public square of global importance. By the end of the summer, it may have more than a billion users, or about fifteen per cent of the world's population. Some of these people are restive and see Facebook as a substitute public space for speech and dissent that their own authoritarian regimes don't provide.
Within the United States, Facebook is a venue for all sorts of issue and political campaigns. And yet, on the site, as a practical matter, what speech is permitted or banned is determined largely by Facebook's terms of service. The terms functions as a corporate constitution binding users to the provider's conceptions of what speech is acceptable. My colleague at the new American Foundations, Rebecca MacKinnon, in her recent book "Consent of the Networked," calls this realm "Facebookistan." Once Facebook user sign on and accept the terms of service, their postings are subordinate to the corporation's rules, for as long as they choose to stay. In a place like Syria, the facebook rules users encounter are much more permissive than local laws; in the United States, that is not so clear.(to be continued)