Why Tim Berners-Lee is no friend of Facebook

It's hypocritical of Mark Zuckerberg to sing the praises of the web's founder when he's trying to monopolise the internet

I f there were a Nobel prize for hypocrisy, then its first recipient ought to be Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook boss. On 23 August, all his 1.7 billion users were greeted by this message: "Celebrating 25 years of connecting people. The web opened up to the world 25 years ago today! We thank Sir Tim Berners-Lee and other internet pioneers for making the world more open and connected."

Aw, isn't that nice? From one "pioneer" to another. What a pity, then, that it is a combination of bullshit and hypocrisy. [...]

It's not the inaccuracy that grates, however, but the hypocrisy. Zuckerberg thanks Berners-Lee for "making the world more open and connected". So do I. What Zuck conveniently omits to mention, though, is that he is embarked upon a commercial project whose sole aim is to make the world more "connected" but less open. Facebook is what we used to call a "walled garden" and now call a silo: a controlled space in which people are allowed to do things that will amuse them while enabling Facebook to monetise their data trails. One network to rule them all. If you wanted a vision of the opposite of the open web, then Facebook is it.

The thing that makes the web distinctive is also what made the internet special, namely that it was designed as an open platform. It was designed to facilitate "permissionless innovation". If you had a good idea that could be realised using data packets, and possessed the programming skills to write the necessary software, then the internet -- and the web -- would do it for you, no questions asked. And you didn't need much in the way of financial resources -- or to ask anyone for permission -- in order to realise your dream.

An open platform is one on which anyone can build whatever they like. It's what enabled a young Harvard sophomore, name of Zuckerberg, to take an idea lifted from two nice-but-dim oarsmen, translate it into computer code and launch it on an unsuspecting world. And in the process create an empire of 1.7 billion subjects with apparently limitless revenues. That's what permissionless innovation is like.

The open web enabled Zuckerberg to do this. But -- guess what? -- the Facebook founder has no intention of allowing anyone to build anything on his platform that does not have his express approval. Having profited mightily from the openness of the web, in other words, he has kicked away the ladder that elevated him to his current eminence. And the whole thrust of his company's strategy is to persuade billions of future users that Facebook is the only bit of the internet they really need.

Like I keep saying:

If you work for Facebook, quit. It is morally indefensible for you to use your skills to make that company more powerful. By working there, you are making the world an objectively worse place. I'm sure you can find a job working for a company that you don't have to apologize for all the time.

You can do it. I believe in you.

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13 Responses:

  1. exF says:

    Did that last year, after less than a year. Hypocrisy of constant indoctrination into the bullshit "connect the world" mission thing was one of reasons, guess...

    • Aaron says:

      What was it like to work there?

      • exF says:

        Not bad, i would say it's better than most large s/w companies. Still I like working a a small startup more.
        It's weird how many (grown up and supposedly smart) people working at facebook take the idealistic "mission" stuff seriously. For example, after announcement about Zuckerberg pledging to give away his shares to some foundation, I heard people saying that this means that now they practically do charity work. Logic being: coding for facebook -> money to foundation -> philantropy ...

      • exF says:

        Not bad, i would say it's better than most large s/w companies. Still I like working a a small startup more.
        It's weird how many (grown up and supposedly smart) people working at facebook take the idealistic "mission" stuff seriously. For example, after announcement about Zuckerberg pledging to give away his shares to some foundation, I heard people saying that this means that now they practically do charity work. Logic being: coding for facebook -> money to foundation -> philantropy ...

  2. Kyzer says:

    Tim Berners-Lee and Fuckerberg share the same goal -- to lock down the open web.

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/10/lowering-your-standards

    On Monday, the W3C announced that its Director, Tim Berners-Lee, had determined that the "playback of protected content" was in scope for the W3C HTML Working Group's new charter, overriding EFF's formal objection against its inclusion. This means the controversial Encrypted Media Extension (EME) proposal will continue to be part of that group's work product, and may be included in the W3C's HTML5.1 standard.

    EME's purpose is to block the "permissionless innovation" of web browsers. Website owners will require that browser vendors "play ball" with them, and force their userbase to obey the website owners' whims, or they'll use an official W3C standard to lock out the entire browser.

    Berners-Lee is not some saint. If you're a W3C employee, and you're reading this - LEAVE. Join WHATWG instead.

    • jwz says:

      I strongly object to W3C approving DRM, and to Mozilla's support of this self-destructive capitulation, but to compare timbl to Zuckerberg on this basis is insane. That's the kind of one-bit-depth intransigence one only sees from, well, the FSF. Like a vegan firebombing a vegetarian restaurant.

      I'll never forget the time I was trying to explain the difference between Red Hat and Debian to someone, and their takeaway was, "Wait, you're telling me that your lunatic fringe has a lunatic fringe?"

      • I guess I always figured that the lunatic fringe of our lunatic fringe was Theo de Raadt...

        • jwz says:

          Turtles all the way down.

          • Alex says:

            All lunatic fringes necessarily have a lunatic fringe of their own, just because it's always possible to be crazier - the phenomenon is fractal, at least until you get to the point where the fringe is literally one individual. Even at that point, you could argue that person's craziest thoughts or moods represent their own internal lunatic fringe.

  3. PaulJBis says:

    You know, you keep repeating that last part about apologizing for Facebook, but I don't think most of the people working there actually find any of what their company does objectionable. In other words, I don't think any of them feels any need to apologize for Facebook behaviour.

    It's a bit like that old saying when you see someone doing something outrageous: "hoy can they sleep at night?" Well, like a baby. People like that always sleep better than you or me.

    • jwz says:

      I have read many things written by Facebook employees who do find the company's practices "problematic", "but". I have read instances where they have real-name-outed their own employees and that employee then goes "yeah but spam!" The place is full of kool-aid drinkers, and not only sociopaths.

  4. tobias says:

    Being an American tax payer of any sort is bad, and you should all feel bad. You each probably pay more taxes than Zuck too. Making you people worse than him.