Why academics are tracking Mark Zuckerberg's every word
No, it’s not TV’s newest paranormal FBI drama series—yet. “The Zuckerberg Files” refers instead to an online archive of every on-the-record statement, whether in print or corporate presentation, made by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, dating all the way back to a 2004 interview with the Harvard Crimson. (In that article, Zuckerberg describes Wirehog, a peer-to-peer file-sharing program meant to become fully integrated into Facebook; it was dismantled in January 2006.)
The transcripts and videos were collected by Michael Zimmer, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee’s School of Information Studies, in order to shed light on the evolution of Facebook as a social platform, particularly as it relates to privacy.
“By gaining a better understanding of how Facebook’s founder and CEO conceives of his own company’s role in the policy and ethical debates surrounding social networking,” Zimmer explains on the site, “we will be better suited to critically engage in a dialogue on privacy and Facebook, inform design and policy recommendations, and increase user awareness and literacy.”
Three years ago in the Huffington Post, Zimmer, along with fellow scholar Chris Hoofnagle, sharply characterized the tenor of most official statements from Facebook and Zuckerberg on the subject of privacy, especially in the wake of a backlashes over new advertising features, calling them Machiavellian:
"In all these cases, Facebook follows the pattern of taking two steps forward with an aggressive misuse of personal information and creeping back the slightest bit once the criticisms emerged. Each time, Facebook promised users that 'we will keep listening,' and artfully reminding us that all they really want to do is make 'the world more open and connected.'"
That doubletalk certainly appears to be in evidence of late, with Facebook simultaneously appearing to reverse course on the distribution of violent imagery, including beheading videos, while in fact subtly reaffirming the policy that caused users to complain in the first place. In that sense, the Zuckerberg Files could be a case study in hypocrisy—with the company doing more or less what it likes once it figures out the appropriate rhetorical framing for it.
Although considered an “open-access public archive,” the only publicly available aspects of the Zuckerberg Files are bibliographic and metadata. To really delve into this material, one has to be conducting research in a related area.
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