Dear Free Press, Stop The Facebook Gossip Profiteering

The otherwise laudable Free Press book publisher has joined the ranks of media outlets that profiteer from cheap, gossipy, Facebook criticism. The Boy Kings is an autobiographical account from a Facebook customer service employee of the mildly frat boy behavior of Facebook’s male engineers, disguised as a tell-all investigative forewarning of the social network’s plans for the future. The Grand Canyon-size gap between author Katherine Losse’s apocalyptic claims and the actual examples are extraordinary. In one anecdote, Losse’s friend and fellow engineer, “Thrax,” crashed on the floor asleep after working unusually hard. When Thrax’s colleagues praised his work, this was Losse’s explanation:

“It was as if, in the process of building out his technology, he had reached the technologist’s desired state in which he no longer had a human body…This, maybe, was Facebook’s primal scene, the moment when technology consumed the body, reality, and what was left of the physical realm.”

You can’t make this stuff up…well, I guess you can if you’re a Free Press author. Sadly, what could have been an important insight into one of the world’s most powerful corporations was squandered on a self-indulgent, half-baked attempt at feminism.

“I was a student of the humanities, including histories of colonialism and revolutions” writes Losse, in the anti-climactic build up to the book’s mushroom-cloud evidence of Facebook’s broken, chauvinistic culture: a 2006 birthday prank whereby the females were asked to wear a t-shirt with Zuckberg’s picture on it and the males asked to wear his signature flip-flops. “He’s not my god or my president; I just work here,” complains Losse.

Was the birthday inappropriate? Sure. Does it deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as colonialism: no, not even close. And, in the face of actually offensive Silicon Valley sexism, Boy Kings seems like a distraction from real problems.

Losse’s inescapable humanities perspective reads like an extended rant of  a girl in Philosophy 101 class who thinks she’s offered a sound critique of Aristotle because she used the word “Western.” Facebook should be criticized, but we should also hold authors accountable to offering the requisite historical and social science evidence necessary to smash someone else’s hard-built dreams.

Without reading the book, if I was told that a company of young 20-something male millionaires occasionally acted frat-boyish, I probably would have believed that without reading 200 pages of evidence. Here’s some bullet pointed examples that will save you $16

  • Male engineers get drunk in Las Vegas
  • At first, only technical employees were offered housing perks, then everyone was
  • An older man at Facebook made sexual advances at the author and was demoted

The book concludes without any real insight into Facebook’s vision, comparisons of other companies that satisfy the author’s values, or a single piece of damning evidence. Facebook is far from perfect, and its enormous influence deserves both careful criticism and thoughtful debate.

Boy Kings offers none of this, but has managed to make headlines from its vaguely sexist claims. Free Press is sure to make money from the book, and perhaps they also plan to make more money by putting out a magazine of paparazzi-style pictures of Zuckerberg in the grocery store checkout aisle.

[Image Credit: zalouk webdesign]