A Note from the Editor: This article is the first in a series of topical commentary pieces where opinions are curated from the Conscious Capitalism community.
Data breaches involving millions of people’s personal information.
Suicides being broadcast live.
Social injustice, captured and shared immediately around the world—bringing immediate outcry and support for the aggrieved.
Hate messages from a terrorist group.
Fake news designed to influence opinions—and possibly votes.
On Facebook, the drama unfolds every second and quickly multiplies—sometimes beyond our human capacity to comprehend its speed.
The social media giant has spearheaded connecting people around the world, but it also raises questions around the boundaries and responsibilities of free speech. A recent Fortune Data Sheet examined “Why Facebook Should Be Liable for What It Publishes,” and the piece raises some interesting questions: How much should be shared? How can we trust what we are reading or sharing? And, most important, who is ultimately responsible for the integrity of content?
At a rate of 400 hours of content uploaded per minute, and 4.75 billion pieces of content shared daily, Facebook has 2.2 billion users—and, until recently, not many watchful eyes to sort through an unprecedented amount of content. According to Associate Professor at UCLA Sarah T. Roberts, Ph.D., a lot of that work is done by contractors—but do they work for Facebook or someone else?
Separately, but just as importantly, is Facebook really a content publisher? If so, should Facebook ultimately be responsible for content its platform enables others to post and share?
These questions are currently being discussed and argued in terms of legality and social responsibility, but what happens when we take these questions a step further to view them through the lens of Conscious Capitalism? We asked several Conscious Capitalists to weigh in on the topic.
Multimedia consultant for law and advocacy Jon Sutz tackles the question of Facebook’s purpose: is it a publishing platform or a place for people to form communities on their own? “Facebook should be liable for what it publishes,” Sutz said, “because rather than being a passive repository of user content, it actively picks and chooses what content appears. And based on research reports I and others have produced, [Facebook] is choosing to enable and protect violence-inciting propaganda against Jews and others, while suppressing criticism of this material that does not violate its ‘community standards.’”
Quantum Leaders CEO Norman Wolfe said Facebook was created as a platform to allow people to connect with friends—not to own or be responsible for the content they upload. “However, it has since evolved, not so much by design as driven by the market it serves and to some degree by its desire to take advantage of advertising opportunities within its business model,” he said. As its stakeholders have also morphed over time, Wolfe said the company is now responsible to a larger “society stakeholder.”
Wolfe wonders what would happen if Facebook was a more conscious company. “Would it have seen its purpose morphing sooner? Would it have responded sooner? As a living organization, Facebook grows in consciousness the same way every person does: through the struggles and challenges life puts before us,” said Wolfe. “I would commend Mark Zuckerberg for at least owning up to the realization that his company has morphed and is now willing to address it. How he addresses it will determine the level of Conscious Leader he is.”
Truth, lies, and higher purpose
When looking at the issue raised in the Fortune Data Sheet, it’s just as important to consider the source of Facebook’s current content challenges. Our Conscious Capitalists weighed in on that topic.
“When our team first saw the news on Facebook’s role in enabling an enormous amount of propaganda, our tendency as technologists was to assume they had been taken advantage of in some nefarious way they could not have anticipated,” said Joe Stafura, CEO of Thrive. “In other words, we defaulted to Hanlon’s razor, which says never attribute something as evil when in reality it was caused by stupidity.”
Stafura initially thought Facebook’s problems may be a consequence of its own popularity. “We thought leadership had mishandled the rapid growth to 2 billion subscribers and this overwhelmed their abilities to control their data,” he said. “But the truth seems to be that they were so good at stealing our data that they became drunk with power and greed. A violation of the stakeholder agreement, in our opinion, as they sold our entrusted private conversations and friend lists to a group that essentially used it as a weapon. This seems counter to Facebook’s transparent culture.” Stafura said that, as a technology company, Thrive collects nothing without informed consent of use. “We don’t consider our customers our product. This is a core pillar our leadership builds around. Facebook seemed on the surface to be doing the same; however, it now appears a bottomless greed now permeates the culture, essentially turning its customers into targets.”
Jeannette Keton, CEO of Palladin Inc., focuses more on the cycle of disinformation. “The age of disruption has launched the age of disinformation, and we are struggling to determine fake or fact,” she said. “Facebook is just one small part of the problem. Disinformation, which includes fake product reviews, fake polls, fake ‘scholarly’ journals, fake videos, fake ‘not-for-profit’ websites, and more, is undermining rational discourse and decision-making, with serious ramifications for civil society, democratic institutions, and business. Many are looking for solutions from social media, government, or technology companies,” Keton added. “These solutions have the same downside: someone must decide what constitutes false information. With this comes the risk that legitimate voices will be shut out.”
Keton cautions against a slippery slope that could lead to censorship and the abrogation of our First Amendment rights. “The better solution—one espoused by PEN America, the Bush Institute, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, among others—is for each of us to sharpen our critical thinking skills and become smarter news and information consumers. Educators are launching news and information literacy programs,” said Keton. “What about the workplace? Conscious Leaders can promote information literacy. Conscious cultures can embrace it. The health of our stakeholders, our society, and our country depend upon it.”
According to Timothy Henry, Co-CEO and managing partner of the global consulting and leadership firm, BRIDGE, and a cofounder and trustee of Conscious Capitalism, Facebook needs to better align its purpose with its business model and with a stakeholder orientation. “If the current business model allows for unintended consequences that impact communities with false or misleading information, then it needs to look very closely at how it gets better alignment between customer interests [as stakeholders]and the societies/communities in which it operates [also a stakeholder]to ensure that there is not manipulation of the information that is ‘published’ on its platform,” he said. “In integrating stakeholder interests, it needs to balance the interests of the people who want to post and share information with customers and communities or society.”
Henry said Facebook has a need to get on top of this issue and ensure it is creating value and trust among all stakeholders in alignment with a longer-term view of its business model. “This happens through playing a role in overseeing the content that one stakeholder posts,” he said.
Conscious Leadership can also play a role in fixing Facebook’s issues going forward, said Conscious Business Coach Ahumada Kroepfly. “I think that everyone is responsible for what we say, think, or feel,” he said. “Facebook is a tool to express what we want to share and connect with others. It isn’t responsible for our conscious level of being.”
Kroepfly believes Facebook can play a leadership role in helping people to be more conscious about the types of communications we share. “The basic level to be more integral and ethical might be achieved as a company if Facebook would take care of the personal information that they share with other organizations, like government or other private interests,” he said. “The practice of being integral will enable them to be an option for us, if they can learn about the good and the bad practices that they created.”
What are your thoughts about how Facebook can move forward as a more Conscious Company?
*Opinions presented above are those of members of the Conscious Capitalism community and are not necessarily the opinions of Conscious Capitalism International.