Facebook really seems to have “legs.” I thought the phenomenon of this social networking site would have slowed down a few years ago after folks reviewed my family reunion pictures from Dollywood, but I was wrong. Perhaps I will post pictures from my upcoming trip to Euro-Dollywood, which I think is in Alabama.
Facebook recently surpassed the 500-million-member milestone. The prior record-holder for having the most addicted users was vodka. Facebook is, potentially, equally compelling and destructive, but people love it. It gives everyone a chance to sleep with the person they always wanted to. How did we survive for so many years not knowing what our friends were up to or thinking at every moment? And if we want to know even seconds quicker, now there is Twitter.
Privacy has somehow become an antiquated notion. Facebook and the Internet have ushered in an age George Orwell warned us of in 1984. We are willing and even anxious to put things our parents would never tell anyone right on our Facebook page, for the entire world to see. We do not even need spy organizations anymore. We publish birthdays, personal data, where we went, and what we did; we even tag ourselves and our friends in pictures. Want my kids’ names? Sure, here you go — and I tagged them in a picture if that would help you kidnap them. I just hope I can pay their ransom on Facebook via PayPal.
On the outside chance of meeting someone of the opposite sex, we are willing, with precious little thought, to put it all out there. Facebook has even come under scrutiny for the compromising of our personal data by third parties. Facebook was concerned about this. It reasoned that, if anyone is taking your most personal information and selling it for a buck, it should be Facebook.
Even the Department of Homeland Security seeks to keep tabs on all Facebook and BlackBerry communications. Since the government is never quick to figure out how to do things, I suggest the best way for the Feds to do this is to ask every dude’s wife or girlfriend to demonstrate how they monitor all communications on their guy’s cell.
Facebook has even become an important conduit for political actions. We saw its power in helping to coordinate the efforts of the opposition forces that hosed Mubarak. Even French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s password was stolen and his Facebook account hacked. (Or perhaps, in the proud French tradition, the password wasn’t actually stolen. When some hacker asked for it, he just instinctively surrendered it.)
It has been reported that some countries are slow to yield to Facebook. I read a story that said the Japanese have been reluctant to flock to social media sites because “they are traditionally introverted and private” people. This conclusion was apparently reached by a person who has never been to a Karaoke bar, an American strip club, or watched Japanese contestants run the gantlet on “Most Extreme Elimination Challenge.”
Sadly, the great mother of innovation that was once our country, that helped us create Facebook and Google, might no longer benefit investors. With the proliferation of cumbersome and often ambiguous American financial regulatory laws, companies like Facebook choose to let people in other countries invest in their growth, not Americans. Such was the case with Facebook’s most recent offering where, instead of filing all the complicated paperwork and risking our litigation/regulatory system, it sold $1.5 billion in shares to Russian and other overseas investors, giving them what will probably be a hefty profit. All the layers upon layers of rules and regulations Washington has heaped on an already-fragile financial system have hamstrung our competitiveness and sent jobs and investment money to friendlier shores.
Facebook’s recent financing venture is a wakeup call. Russia, run by ex-KGB officers, is viewed as an easier and less intrusive regulatory environment than the U.S. The Russians will make a huge profit on an investment that, just a few years ago, U.S. investors could have reaped. That Russia, a country that once crumbled under the weight of its own immense bureaucracy, is now less regulated and more business-friendly than America speaks volumes
If Ronald Reagan had known that we would head toward socialism and our Cold War adversaries would go from communism to capitalism, he might have altered his famous line: “Mr. Gorbachev, reinforce this wall!”
Ron Hart is a syndicated op-ed humorist, author and TV/radio commentator. Email Ron@RonaldHart.com or at visit RonaldHart.com