As the social networking leader, Facebook holds a privileged position. It has the power to set the tone in a still evolving community where more and more of us are spending more and more time.
But with the latest brouhaha over its update to user privacy settings, Facebook appears arrogant, coming off as the big bully in our little neighborhood of 350 million, rather than the gregarious and fair town mayor it should be. It wasn't Facebook's lack of communication that caused the upset, though.
For months, the social network has been warming its users up to the idea that changes were a'coming. CEO Mark Zuckerberg even sent a friendly letter to users, and when you logged in to your page this week, you were stopped by a pop-up that forced you to take a look at your settings. The communications team has issued press releases, statements, blogs, and tweets on the changes. And in fact, if you take a look at your settings, you can opt out of just about everything, and even create customized ones.
But no one heard that message once the outrage over Facebook's decision to create default settings that shared more user information than many wanted to. Ticking off top online influencers like Jason Calacanis, founder and CEO Mahalo, is never a good idea. Outrage led to confusion and eventually an FTC complaint from nearly a dozen privacy groups. These groups and marketers have been setting up to square off in the coming years regarding the rights of our online selves. Facebook would be better served if it created alliances with these groups. Yet, by making a calculated decision on its default settings, Facebook was doomed to appear sneaky despite its exhaustive efforts to explain how to change these settings.
While no competitor has yet emerged to knock Facebook from its throne, and the company has faced and survived such criticism before, the Web is still a market where younger, faster, and more-inspired services are cropping up every day. As anyone in politics knows, too many missteps, too many scandals, and too many missed opportunities, means the town mayor won't be coming back for another term.