design technology writing

“All Empires Vanish”

Wired’s Virginia Heffernan writes an excellent, concise brief on Sheryl Sandberg, the embattled Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and author of Lean In. Heffernan stages the piece in a interesting way1, focussing not on a #meToo angle or tangentially the feminist perspective though Sandberg’s brand effuses both. 

Instead, Heffernan posits Sandberg’s failure is one of vanity and hubris, not femininity. No single human can do what Sandberg is trying to do: capitalize on self-publishing within the framework of moral obligation.

Facebook has democratized publishing for the world. While there are a litany of technical challenges to this, two ideological problems stand out:

One, the world is untrained in the importance of self-editing. Newspapers, though gasping and choking now, quickly learned the symbiotic importance between writing and editing. Two, mostly unlegislated capitalism is not good for democracy. Bad actors exploit self-publishing for financial and political gain. There are numerous financial incentives in doing so.

Facebook didn’t know what it was getting into. If it did, its leadership is sadly incompetent2. If it didn’t, its leadership is naive of the war-ravaged political and historical context of publishing. Facebook is not a service, as its marketing collateral unequivocally states. It is a publishing platform.

Act accordingly.

  1. Heffernan benefits from contributing articles to Politico, so she is keenly aware of the political lens through which stories can be viewed.
  2. It’s fashionable in the current media landscape to attack Facebook. It’s also fair to say that Facebook’s accomplishments are amazing from a technical standpoint. But there is historical context for the dangers posed by publishing. Adding the layer of publishing for an untrained everyone increases the complexity and severity of those dangers.