Opinion by Jonny Evans

Facebook, take note!

facebook not like
Credit: Enoc, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Those copyright notices that people are posting on their Facebook pages don’t mean a thing legally, but that doesn’t mean Facebook, or the media, should ignore them

In the last few weeks it’s possible some of your Facebook chums posted messages on their walls in which they tried to revoke permission for the social network to use and distribute content they post.

“In response to the new Facebook guidelines, I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, professional photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention).”

Often, you’ll see people commenting on these notices, saying things like, “This doesn’t mean a thing,” “This has no legal significance,” “You’re wasting your time” and “This is another hoax.” All of which is true enough, except possibly the part about it being a waste of time. I say this because, as an expression of what people want, perhaps Facebook — and the media — should be paying attention.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”

When it comes to these attempts at controlling the rights to personal content claimed by Facebook, the frequency and wide use of these posts are evidence that millions are demanding a chance to reach a new deal with the service. They want to limit what Facebook can do with their personal information, and what on earth is wrong with that?

Why should this vast corporation be able to decide what it does with your digital life? Things have moved on and a new service agreement is being demanded by millions of users who feel that the complex umbrella of Facebook’s legal protection is subsuming their individual rights.

They want to be heard in their demand that Facebook should not be free to share posts they create that are then shared by a friend for the rest of time, even if they delete their account.

You’d imagine that a desire like this, shared by millions, would merit a little media coverage, perhaps along the lines of “Millions demand new Facebook privacy deal.”

That’s not what we’ve seen. Instead we’ve seen the media publish numerous stories pointing out that these posts have no legal significance at all, that they don’t work and that users shouldn’t be posting these pesky statements. Some of these reports come across as scolding.

“You should take no notice of these posts, they do absolutely nothing,” Marie Brewis, managing editor of PC Advisor, told the BBC. “It doesn’t matter what you put on your profile, you have already signed up to Facebook’s terms and if Facebook was going to change its terms and conditions it would tell people.”

“We’re never going to get to a point where every single school acquaintance you see on Facebook stops posting this trash, even if Mark Zuckerberg went on a door-to-door information campaign,” writes Gizmodo.

These people miss the point.

The arguments that “you don’t need to use” the service or, worse, that “you should know your rights before you begin using the service” are of little consequence when user agreements remain incomprehensible.

Not only this, but people’s concerns change — there is a real difference in people’s expectation, understanding and demands of online privacy since the Snowden revelations, for example. Has Facebook given its users a chance to redefine the rights it has granted?

The argument that people can stop using the service is unrealistic; we’re talking about an addictive social network that people have become reliant on. And what people love is not the network itself, but rather the posts their friends make.

By slamming users for making posts of this kind, people who claim to report events for a living are missing a trick. They should be noting that the Facebook community wants to take the power back. This is a digital equivalent of the “Hands up, don’t shoot” protestors fighting to seize back the right not to be shot simply because of skin tone.

Surely even in the digital world people have a right to speak out against abuse of power? In Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, was young Oliver at fault for asking for more?

Of course not.

Those making such arguments are simply mouthing a mantra that protects abuse of power wherever it takes place, criminalizing the victims while ignoring the need.

There is a need to articulate the significance of these posts, which show that millions of users want a few things from Facebook, including privacy and control of the content they create, despite the user agreements already in place.

Critics of those demanding such autonomy are the digital equivalent of quislings who collaborate with enemy occupation. Why should Facebook’s users not be empowered to demand a new contract?

Facebook’s privacy people will argue that Facebook has tried to make its privacy controls more transparent, and they’d be right, except that these transparent privacy controls don’t actually offer a great deal of privacy protection.

That millions of users are lobbying for better control of content and data that has been generated by them is a story in itself; millions of posts by millions of people should be recognized, not ignored.

The legal significance of these posts is inconsequential to the main story, which is that millions of Facebook users are demanding the right to control their own content. Why should the service be allowed to ignore the will of its consumers without criticism?

Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.”

Keep spreading the demand, and there’s a chance you might achieve it. Stay silent and things will never change.

The media silence in its coverage of this latest Facebook privacy storm is a story in itself.

Jonny Evans is an independent journalist/blogger who first got online in 1993. He's author of Computerworld's AppleHolic blog and also writes for others in the U.S., the U.K. and Europe. Winner of an Azbee Award in 2010, Jonny enjoys new and disruptive technology and likes music almost as much as he likes his large and shiny dog.

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