The Language of Social Networks

Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have established near monopoly control over the language that we use to talk about social networks.  Think about the words that we use to describe social network sites — terms such as “like”, “share”, “connect”, “transparent”, “more open”, etc.  I’m not saying that Facebook were the first company to use these terms and they certainly didn’t invent them.  But I do believe that Facebook have been the most effective and the most consistent at using those words to frame the conversation about social network policies and features in moral terms.

The moral framework they’re creating around their social network site is really key to focus on.  Facebook are saying: It’s *good* to be liked, right?  It’s *good* to connect to more people, right?  You’re a *better* person if you’re willing to share more transparently, right?  And, conversely, if you’re *not* willing to share a thought or action openly, then what are you hiding; are you doing something that you *shouldn’t* be doing?

Facebook have purposefully created this moral linguistic context for their service.  As Zuckerberg masterfully puts it:

At Facebook we have a deeply held purpose […] Our mission: “Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” In the world we’re building where the world is more transparent, it becomes good for people to be good to each other. That’s really important as we try to solve some of the world’s problems.


George Lakoff, professor of linguistics and cognitive science tells us that, in any debate, if one side manages to dominate the moral framing of the issues, then they’ve already won the debate before it even begins.  Facebook appear to have learned Lakoff’s lessons well.  By framing the debate about social network policies and features in their own moral terms, Facebook could be walking away with victorious dominance over the social internet without firing a shot!  Every other social internet company has been forced to define themselves using Facebook’s terminology of “sharing”, “openness” and “social graphs” (i.e., attempting to beat Facebook at their own game) or to contrast themselves against Facebook’s feature functionality (i.e., attempting to convince the world that sharing, openness, and transparency are bad things).  It’s a lose-lose proposition either way and that makes it really hard for other companies to market and differentiate themselves using the language and concepts that Facebook own.

What are your thoughts on how the social network industry should move forward from here?  I’ll jot down some thoughts in my next blog post.  Would love to hear your thoughts in the meantime.

4 Comments on “The Language of Social Networks”

  1. You just lost your moral authority by asking the question on behalf of the ‘social media industry’. That term is as off-putting to people on the internet as the ‘music industry’ is to people who are not tone deaf. Besides, Facebook has no monopoly on the language. Further, FB only appropriated the language used by others before the service came along. The argument has hardly been won. It has hardly even begun. Current ‘market’ dominance is not permanent. Nor special in any way.

  2. Moribund Cadaver says:

    Regardless of whether a debate has been won or lost already, there are signs that other figureheads are well aware of the moralization of language surrounding social networking. They’ve been pushing hard to continue framing discussion in Facebook’s terms – if not to battle Facebook, then to silence criticism of their own ambitions.

    Google has worked hard to market their own social service in terms of single identity for everyone = the greatest public good, and sharing of everything possible being the inevitable result of the march of technology towards improving life. They’ve likewise cast suspicion (or implied it) upon anyone who disagrees with their assertions and ideas – all but invoking the “if you have nothing to hide, why don’t you want to be seen?” line of manipulative argument.

  3. Eruditions says:

    Let me add something from G+, a nice comment that I liked :

    “Silence is not necessarily bad, when someone is enough deep to think about meaningful concepts.

    “Open the book to read what others have thought, then again, close the book to think with your own mind, by yourself”. I could add “speak, when you have something important to say”.

    On topic, I agree, to be liked is ok, however it could be dark, too. ( One that is “liked” could be envied by someone wanting to copy or replace him somehow, sometimes ). To be loved, though, is much more, because those loving us don’t want us to change, but stay the same, so they can project their feelings toward us… Food for thoughts, I hope … 🙂

    Aren’t actually friends those that you already have had from the real world ? Benevolent beings can everybody find behind a computer screen 😉 Are they friends though ?

    Do you think that Schopenhauer could write his renowned book “About happiness” in a noisy market ? Or Stephen King his books ? Or Paulo Coelho, the Alchemist ?

    What good is in being noisy ? Just to make “friends” ? Are you so full of emptiness ? Pity you ….

    So, no, it’s not bad to stay aside, when you have something more important to do than cheap talking …

  4. […] The Language of Social Networks ( […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s