The new ads for Facebook Home are propaganda clips. Transforming vice into virtue, they’re social engineering spectacles that use aesthetic tricks to disguise the profound ethical issues at stake. This isn’t an academic concern: Zuckerberg’s vision (as portrayed by the ads) is being widely embraced — if the very recent milestone of half a million installations is anything to go by.
Critics have already commented on how the ads exploit our weakness for escapist fantasy so we can feel good about avoiding conversation and losing touch with our physical surroundings. And they’ve called out Zuckerberg’s hypocrisy: “Isn’t the whole point of Facebook supposed to be that it’s a place to keep up with, you know, family members? So much for all that high-minded talk about connecting people.”
However, the dismissive reviews miss an even deeper and more consequential point about the messages conveyed by the ads: that to be cool, worthy of admiration and emulation, we need to be egocentric. We need to care more about our own happiness than our responsibilities towards others.
Let’s examine the most egregious Facebook ad of them all: “Dinner” (in the video above). On the surface, it portrays an intergenerational family meal where a young woman escapes from the dreariness of her older relative’s boring cat talk by surreptitiously turning away from the feast and instead feasting her eyes on Facebook Home. With a digital nod to the analog “Calgon, Take Me Away” commercials, the young woman is automatically, frictionlessly transported to a better place: full of enchanting rock music, ballerinas, and snowball fights.
But let’s break Zuckerberg’s spell and shift our focus away from Selfish Girl. Think off-camera and outside the egocentric perspective framed by the ad. Reflect instead on the people surrounding her.
Evan Selinger is Associate Professor of Philosophy and MAGIC Center Head of Research Communications, Community & Ethics, both at Rochester Institute of Technology. Evan publishes extensively in the areas of philosophy of technology, privacy, and ethics/policy of science and technology. To enhance public debate about ethics, Evan regularly supplements his peer-reviewed scholarship with outreach articles in places like The Atlantic, Wired, Slate, Forbes,The Wall Street Journal, and The Nation.
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