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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Strategic CSR - Facebook

The article in the url below expands the debate about the damaging effects of social media by discussing the pros/cons of scientific progress:
"Seeing science and the tools and connections it provides as a good in itself is profoundly dangerous and wrong."
More specifically, the author relates his critique to the dangers posed by the IT companies that currently dominate our economies:
"Founded by young computer engineers, Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley companies have been happy to view their powerful inventions as neutral platforms. … These companies have converted an engineer's disregard for real-world outcomes into a libertarian ideology that belittles the harms that stem from their platforms and rejects rules and regulations meant to prevent those harms."
In this light, is the offer of a free internet connection (with strings attached) in the developing world an act of altruism or a step closer to world domination?
"And when India rejected a proposal from Facebook to introduce a free version of internet access that was limited to Facebook and a small assortment of other sites, Mark Zuckerberg, the company's chief executive, responded more in sorrow than anger. 'History tells us that helping people is always a better path then shutting them out,' he explained, gliding past the Indian government's argument that introducing incomplete access to the internet was a worse path."
It seems that times have changed in the Facebook universe:
"… with the announcement last week by Mr. Zuckerberg that the company felt 'a responsibility to make sure our services aren't just fun to use, but also good for people's well-being.' In practical terms, this means that Facebook will be reducing the amount of so-called public content — often provocative posts from businesses and news organizations — in favor of personal content, posts from friends and family."
The interesting question this back-and-forth raises is whether the good intentions of Facebook, combined with the libertarian ideology of free and unlimited online access, helps or hinders society as a whole:
"The public faces the unsatisfying question: Is it better to suffer an engineer's neglect or an engineer's concern?"
One reason for concern is that Facebook has been using data to manipulate its users ever since its inception:
"Since Facebook's earliest days, Mr. Zuckerberg has been fascinated by the power to understand and manipulate users by applying algorithms to the data it collects. … Through this deep knowledge of its users, Mr. Zuckerberg explained, Facebook could determine 'what actually matters to each person on a more granular level.' More than a decade later, Facebook is still using these social-engineering tools to probe its users' psyches. Now, however, the company, which reported $4.7 billion in profits in the third quarter, assures us that these tools will be refashioned to take account of the health of our society."
The trouble is that Facebook's own engineers cannot calculate whether the net effects of social media on society are positive or negative. As the company concluded in a report late last year:
"'When people spend a lot of time passively consuming information — reading but not interacting with people — they report feeling worse afterward," the company said. By contrast, "actively interacting with people — especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improvements in well-being.'"
Do we trust Mark Zuckerberg this time around?
"Mr. Zuckerberg says Facebook will be steering users to healthier interactions. 'I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down,' he wrote in a post on Facebook. 'But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.'"
For that to be true, we need to trust that Zuckerberg can achieve his goals (without too much collateral damage) and that his determination of 'good' is something we can all agree on. Or, at least, live with:
"Turns out, an enlightened, socially engaged Facebook has a similar outlook as the amoral, audience-seeking Facebook. Each sees connecting online as key to the good life. In other words, don't count on Facebook to disrupt Facebook any time soon."
Take care
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Facebook Doesn't Like What It Sees in the Mirror
By Noam Cohen
January 17, 2018
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final