Facebook is in the headlines again, and once again, not for anything redemptive. I’d say I was almost feeling sorry for Facebook, but it would probably be more correct to say that I feel sorry for the thousands of people it employs and the millions of people for whom the social media platform is their only connection to friends and family. Despite all of the negative press, just like certain other high-profile individuals, somehow the social media giant manages to hold its dominance in the market, but for how long? This time, damaging documents have leaked that allegedly demonstrate that Facebook’s senior management, including CEO Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, actively promoted and supported the use of data collected by Facebook as leverage over its own partner companies and rivals, all the while building a narrative that would positively frame this activity as a means to protect user privacy.
But wait, that’s not the only thing this week.
Facebook is also in the spotlight over a rather nasty bit of negligence on its part concerning its failure to follow its own policy regarding hate speech and serious threats. Despite being arrested and charged with making death threats against US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a man’s Facebook hate-filled, racist profile was online for weeks until the Guardian news organization pointed out its controversial existence. At that point, his profile was removed for violating their community standards. This person had been posting racist, violent and hateful content for years, and yet nothing was done about it until it became a PR issue, which points out an obvious flaw in Facebook’s community standards: someone has to enforce them in order for them to be worth anything at all.
I’d like to say that these stories are inexcusable but expected – after all, Facebook is publicly traded and the officers of the company really only have one directive – maximize shareholder profit, but that is the true problem behind all of this. Until we have the means and the will to tie profits to ethical behavior, companies like Facebook will continue to behave only in their best interest, which, in case you didn’t realize, is making money for someone other than you and me. Obviously shining the light on them like the Guardian did in the latter instance helps us catch one or two cockroaches, but the rest just wait in the shadows until the spotlight turns to another dumpster fire somewhere else. Pestilence like racism and hate can’t be fought with negligence – it requires constant vigilance and commitment, neither of which Facebook shows any signs of demonstrating when it comes to privacy or compassion. Keep this in mind when considering whether to trust them to exclusively handle your data or news.