Vive la France!

This morning’s Observer column.

A spokeswoman for the CSA explained the thinking behind the ban. “Why give preference to Facebook, which is worth billions of dollars,” she asked, “when there are many other social networks that are struggling for recognition? This would be a distortion of competition. If we allow Facebook and Twitter to be cited on air, it’s opening a Pandora’s Box – other social networks will complain to us saying, ‘Why not us?’ ”

Quite. You can imagine the derisive reaction to this in the Anglo-American media, old and new. The broadcasting ruling was linked with President Sarkozy’s clueless remarks at the G8 summit about “civilising” the internet, and interpreted as a sign of cultural resentment at American dominance in cyberspace. “Poor old Frenchies,” was the general tenor of the commentary, “they just don’t get it.”

Actually, the joke's on us. As it happens, the French do ‘get’ it. To appreciate that, just do a simple thought-experiment. Suppose, for a moment, that BBC News started to use “Dyson” instead of “vacuum cleaner” in its reports of dust-mite infestations, or “Bollinger” instead of “champagne” in its coverage of the drinks industry. We'd be outraged. Yet that is effectively what we are thoughtlessly doing when it comes to dealing with phenomena like social networking: taking the dominant commercial brand and pretending that it’s generic…