XKCD on the dishonesty implicit in the sharing options in social media

By Cory Doctorow

The latest XKCD strip, "Sharing Options/#2016" is a brilliant and trenchant surfacing of the hidden rhetoric of social media, where your options are "permanently share with billions of people, including internet scammers, random predatory companies, and hostile foreign governments" or "a small set of 300 or so approved friends," and when this is questioned, the social media companies profess an inability to understand what other options could exist.

To which the voice of XKCD replies: "I mean...there are numbers between 300 and one billion."

The thing I love about this is the way it exposes how demands are disguised as observations: just as when Zuckerberg says that "privacy is no longer a social norm," he means "I demand that you extinguish the social norm of privacy," when a company says "it is impossible to implement a sharing setting that sits between 'trusted friends' and 'the world, forever," they mean, "I demand that you choose among those two options, because a company with just those two options is more profitable and easier to operate."

This is a cheap and obvious rhetorical trick, but it's surprisingly effective: think of Margaret Thatcher's pronouncement that "there is no alternative," which really meant "stop trying to think of alternatives."

What's more, this trick poisons the well. There are, in fact, things that seem plausible if you don't understand technology but which are obviously impossible if you do understand it (making crypto that works except when the police need it to stop working; making computers that run all programs except the ones you don't like; making filters that stop copyright infringement but not legitimate speech).

When tech companies claim that the inconvenient is impossible, they pave the way for future catastrophes in which the policymakers claim that the impossible is do-able and insist that it be done, and hang the consequences.

Sharing Options [Randall Munroe/XKCD]