Facebook Kills Regional Networks, Updates Privacy Settings: Why?

Decoding the sweeping new changes at the world's biggest social network

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Facebook users hate when the company fiddles with the site's look, settings and functionality, so there was bound to backlash when CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced sweeping changes on Tuesday night. Facebook is eliminating regional networks built around cities and colleges, many of which date back to the site's launch in 2004. The company is also updating and simplifying its privacy settings, allowing users to control who is able to access each piece of content they post. Zuckerberg promised to deliver more details as the adjustments were implemented, but bloggers weren't content with taking the note at face value, and attempted to decode Facebook's underlying motives:

  • Primarily a PR Move Like many bloggers, ReadWriteWeb's Sarah Perez thinks that the changes reflect Facebook's desire to appear responsive to users more than anything else: "Privacy issues are bad news for Facebook, just as they were bad news for MySpace back when they were king. For years, there were so many news stories about sexual predators on MySpace that eventually the public perception of MySpace was that the network wasn't very safe. Instead of going that route and allowing the media stories about Facebook blunders to control the network's public image, these privacy changes are designed to preempt the missteps and mistakes the not-so-savvy user base may make by making Facebook privacy simpler and more refined while also more representative of the large network Facebook has become."
  • Cloak-and-Dagger Betrayal Several bloggers suspected that behind Zuckerberg's seemingly friendly note lied a coiled viper, waiting to strike. Gawker's Ryan Tate, for one, thinks that Facebook is killing regional networks "to trick you." He continues: "That, we admit, is just our shameless, cynical speculation. Facebook wants people to share their content with everyone, like on rival hot-startup Twitter, but most people are content just sharing with their regional networks. So why not kill the regionals and push users to share with the world by default? Paranoid? Maybe. But this conspiracy theory happens to fit snugly with what facts are known."CNet's Caroline McCarthy concurs heartily. She translate's Zuckerberg's "open letter" as follows: "I could be deceptively upfront and say that this was just getting messy and that it makes little sense for millions of you with only a passport in common to be grouped under the same label. But let's be honest. I am simply preparing you for the day in the not-so-distant future when you all willfully renounce your national affiliations and become citizens of the Grand Republic of Facebook. And I shall be your Fearless Leader. Did I mention I own a white fluffy cat?"
  • Facebook is Freaking Out Contrary to most, Brennon Slattery at PC World says Facebook is the one being too paranoid of what users will think of its privacy settings. He says by eliminating regional network, the social network discourages people from meeting anyone random in their area, marking a stark reversal of the essential point for many users, i.e. "making friends with hundreds of strangers."As he puts it: "Many people either aren't sure how to change their privacy settings or they do not care, because, as I mentioned earlier, limiting the network of people able to view your profile is just a click away. So instead of schooling its users on how to protect their privacy, and maintaining its credo, Facebook deleted regional networks altogether, a symbolic gesture of closing the gates."
  • It Doesn't Care What You Want Kit Eaton at Fast Company uses an impressive graphic to analyze user comments made in response to Zuckerberg's note. His statistical exercise uncovers some good news for Facebook: "Facebookers seem to generally like this improvement," he says. But he also cautions that the company has still not addressed a common and growing request: A button allowing users to "dislike" certain content, to counterbalance it's present stand-alone "like" function. "What then, among the spam adverts and side-arguments in the comments, are Facebookers really talking about? It's obvious, when you look at the wordcloud: They all want a "dislike" button. Yes, in the face of a potentially significant tweak to Facebook's privacy settings, the biggest response is to ask for a totally different and rather trivial service. Has Facebook's community suddenly gone all shallow and careless with their online data, trusting the site's decisions more than before? You certainly could argue that. You may even suggest that that's what the whole site is about anyway...What we really need to watch for in the coming hours or days, is whether Zuckerberg really cares about what his community wants, versus what he thinks it wants: Will Facebook get a dislike button?"
  • It Knows Who's Boss Switched blogger Terrence O'Brien humorously encapsulates the "angry mob" mentality that users have typically adopted whenever Facebook has instituted a drastic new change. Or rather, the many new changes, one after another, that get people worked up. Still, he concedes, barring an untold shift, we remain at the social network's mercy: "For all the complaining, people still aren't fleeing Facebook in droves -- as Zuckerberg himself points out in his announcement. We're pretty sure that Mark could go door to door, pour sugar in your gas tanks, yell at your pets, and defecate on your floors and you'd still keep logging in to Facebook. After all, we need our daily wall-posting fix... how else would we barrage our co-workers with updates and pictures about our adorable new kitten? [Angry mob swoons.]"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.