I'm pretty sure the Facebook hysteria now qualifies as a moral panic. We've named a problem ("loss of privacy"), identified it with a public enemy (Facebook is obviously tailor-made for this role; Google might be an even better fit, but - well, they drew a long straw this time), abused tens of thousands of innocent words on describing and discussing and distancing ourselves from The Problem. Now we're at the stage where lawmakers have got in on the act, and Congress is grandstanding at Mark Zuckerberg.
That's worrying, because moral panics generally end in new laws to crack down on some pastime that had, up to now, been classed as - if not exactly virtuous, then at least not harmful enough to be worth the loss of freedom entailed by passing laws about it. Think legal highs, dangerous dogs, alcopops, motorcycle gangs. And the pastimes at stake here - communicating with friends and family, networking, personal publishing - are, basically, everything that is best about the internet. If politicians come to see "social media" as something that needs to be clamped down on, then it's hard to imagine any result that would leave blogs like this one untouched. (The British government is already going this way: its recent changes to press regulation are clearly designed to stifle independent comment, while keeping the press barons onside. It's not, in itself, fascism - but it's one of its building blocks.)
I imagine, by now, just about every country with any kind of commercially-driven media sector has had its say on the Facebook panic. Here is what someone who passes for a media commentator in New Zealand has to say. And I think it's an instructive study in how moral panics - as well as their direct dangers - are also susceptible to hijacking by special interests.
Look at the headline: "Govt needs to protect Kiwis from Facebook's power". Explicitly calling for government action (i.e. new laws), explicitly aimed at Facebook. The writer criticises Facebook - not for collecting data, nor for slinging "targeted" ads, but for doing all this from abroad. "Fundamentally", he says, "we need to have a voice with these overseas organisations who are increasingly playing such an important role in the daily life of New Zealanders". On the other hand, you can "trust local retailers and organisations who have no agenda apart from being useful and understanding you".
The author, one Ben Goodale, is a frequent contributor to the New Zealand Herald. More germanely he's described, in an easily missable footnote, as "the managing director of justONE". I didn't know what "justONE" is any more than you do, but its website describes it as "New Zealand's pre-eminent data-driven marketing, CRM and loyalty agency".
So no, the stench of self-interest that rises from this drivel is not just our imagination.
Note to every legislator: Facebook is a publisher. (Zuckerberg denies this, on the grounds that Facebook doesn't create the content, and it's "a technology company". In other words, he doesn't know what a publisher is.)
You know how to regulate publishing. You've been doing it for hundreds of years. Don't let the new technology and associated gobbledegook blind you to that simple fact: Facebook needs to be treated exactly like every other publisher. How would you react to a publisher that surreptitiously gathered data on people, then carelessly shared that data with third parties?
NZ already has a perfectly good privacy law that covers that scenario, but for some reason nobody has ever thought to apply it to Facebook. We don't need new laws, and we don't . We just need to enforce the laws we've got.