The truth is the best bullshit

Instapaper developer Marco Arment nails three companies -- Apple, Google and Facebook -- for spreading bullshit. "Everyone has their bullshit," he writes. "You can simply decide whose you’re willing to tolerate."

Percolate's Noah Brier, however, takes issue with one of Marco's picks; namely, Facebook's claim that "users want to interact with brands." Brier believes that it's true, and offers some evidence why it is so.

It's easy to get snarled up arguing over branding, advertising and whether people like it, hate it, or just play along. But even if Brier is right, I think he's missed the point.

There's a reason Marco calls these slogans "bullshit" instead of "lies." It's because there's a subtle difference between the two. Bullshit creates a particular impression regardless of the truth, whereas lies are explicitly untrue. If you look at each of the items in his list, you'll see that all of them are just as true, literally speaking, as the one that Brier pointed out.

What makes them bullshit is the context—in this case, the economic incentives that each of the three companies have to select these literal truths as marketing messages. Marco's intention, if he'll forgive me for presuming, is surely to point out that each of these messages serve to mislead consumers, not that they are untrue in an absolute sense.

For example, Android is certainly an open-source operating system, and its success is of great value to the free and open-source software movement. Google's incentive to develop it, however, is to increase advertising revenues, a core business which benefits when users disregard their privacy. Moreover, most Android installations are mucked around with by cellular carriers, whose track record on consumer rights is appalling. To those concerned about these issues, Android is a trojan horse for privacy invasion and corporate surveillance. This makes "Android is open" bullshit when aimed, as a marketing slogan, at consumers who could not care less about the context where it's actually true.

It's also true that Apple's app-review rules are in everyone's best interests -- so long as you agree with Apple's definition of our best interests. But Apple's taste in UI convention, inoffensiveness and so on is not shared by all. It's a combination that serves its bottom line: "make good apps, devs, but not ones that make us look bad or compete with us!"

The best example (of bullshit encapsulated by a literal truth) is another of those Marco attributes to Facebook: "We value your privacy."

I can hear your outraged scoffs, but think about it. Of course Facebook values our privacy. It knows exactly how much it's worth. So it's only natural that the users it loves to talk about are the ones who love to interact with "brands".

Bullshit [Marco]
On Bullshit [Percolate]
On Bullshit, by Harry Frankfurt [Amazon]