When working with people who are actively attempting to correct or remediate behaviors that were previously unproductive or destructive it’s important to provide encouragement and feedback on the positive changes. Common sense would dictate that any progress is better than none at all, and it serves no one to berate someone for shortcomings they are actively working to improve. But corporations aren’t people, and social media mega-corporations like Facebook have such a significant impact on the world that they should given no quarter when it comes to criticism. I understand that they are a for-profit company and have no other master to serve, and if they just openly stated that everything they do serves that master, I wouldn’t bother taking them to task. But what they say and what they do are two different things.
Facebook – Hold Them Accountable
On April 16, 2020, over a year after the “friendly warning” from Congressman Schiff, and months after the pandemic had already spread around the globe, Facebook finally acknowledges that their platform is being used to spread misinformation and promises to engage “fact-checking” and warning labels to inform users of possible misleading information.
In May 2020, they pat themselves on the back for putting warning labeling 50 million (!) pieces of content. “Warning labels”, like the ones on packages of cigarettes that clearly keep people from smoking them.
Fast forward to Feb 8 2021, over 2.3 million Covid-related deaths later, and Facebook is finally getting around to straight-up removing misinformation from its platform. How many deaths could have been avoided if they hadn’t allowed rampant misinformation, fear and hate to spread on Facebook? Don’t get me wrong, never at any point since the day I first heard of Facebook did I suspect them of possessing any shred of altruism or compassion. The initial concept of Facebook sprung from a crude looks-based popularity contest (Hot or Not), and it still remains in part, like most of social media, a popularity contest. If any company in the world had the resources and the brain power to be ethical and compassionate and profitable, Facebook should have this advantage in spades, and yet they have been content to let the market rule until it’s more convenient (read: a shift in political power) for them to behave otherwise.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking Facebook (or any for-profit company) is motivated by ethics or altruism until they demonstrate it at the cost of profit. While I am not foolish enough to believe that all the death and heartache caused by Covid-19 was due to the purposeful spread of misinformation on Facebook, if even one death is attributable to this, isn’t that one death too many? Is it too much to ask the biggest, wealthiest company in the world to be more responsible, more ethical? I don’t think so, and I hope more people will continue ask this same question and demand answers.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net