Facebook's strategy — somewhere between greed and misguided idealism?
“Learning without reflection is a waste. Reflection without learning is dangerous.” — Confucius
I’m struggling with Facebook.
Just as Facebook seems to be struggling with itself.
In a way, that's a pair of evergreen sentences, isn't it?
Five years ago, I had chronicled a list of transgressions that Facebook had already racked up. In that case, Facebook users were unwitting participants in a scientific study.
Looking back at that, Sheryl Sandberg's response should have tipped me off as to the kind of uncaring, growth-at-any-cost mentality we’ve come to know Facebook for: “it was communicated poorly,” she said.
Their defense ignores the lack of ethics behind the decision in the first place—they treated it as if the communication was the problem.
But more subtly, look at the structure of the phrase she used: it’s in the passive voice.
Right there, you see someone who's unwilling to own the decision.
Had Facebook been more forthright and sincere about its apology, she would have used the active voice: “We communicated it poorly” says the same thing, but the subtle shift in language implies taking responsibility for causing the harm.
What made me think about this post that’s now half a decade old?
In the past week, Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress, continuing to defend his willingness to allow politicians to run false advertising. In one instance, he was questioned about Facebook’s willingness to allow such ads. His response echoed Sanberg’s from five years ago:
“I think lying is bad, and I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie, that would be bad.”
Again, look at the language: “if you were to run an ad” and “that would be bad.” He placed blame everywhere but on Facebook.
(Not to mention the lame echo of Mr. Mackey.)
I’m not sure whether we’re dealing with someone who’s simply naive, callous, or a sociopath.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter.
What seems to be missing is a sense of emotional intelligence. I'll get back to that in a moment.
Growth at any cost
Facebook’s stance on political advertising was already problematic. It’s not a complicated issue; I shared a very logical and simple solution two weeks ago.
While this was all swirling last week, Zuckerberg addressed a group of students at Georgetown about free speech. In a piece for Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute and in a Twitter thread, Jameel Jaffer put it succinctly:
“The remarks were revealing. What they revealed most clearly is that Zuckerberg hasn’t spent enough time thinking about free speech, or about Facebook’s relationship to it.”
Under the guise of “supporting expression,” Zuckerberg wants to abdicate Facebook’s need to make sound judgments on content that its algorithm is responsible for.
Zuckerbook [sic] knows exactly what drives clicks and engagement: among them disinformation, anger, and fear—things that rile people up. And any politician who's willing to lie and pay for it is welcome on their platform.
Lest we get sucked into the “all politicians lie” or “who can decide what’s true?” counterarguments—that’s not what's the issue here—the issue is whether Facebook should accept money to amplify those lies.
“Facebook’s users interact and speak to one another in an environment shaped by Facebook’s interface, algorithms, and policies. What gets said is up to individual users, but it’s Facebook that determines which speech is amplified and which is suppressed.”
This brings us to Facebook’s News section that just launched. A section that is determining which news sites get amplified or suppressed.
According to Facebook, publishers that are included in the News section have to be part of its News Index and must also abide by the company’s Publisher Guidelines, which includes prohibitions against misinformation (as flagged by third-party fact-checkers) and hate speech.
The controversial alt-right site Breitbart is included in this list of publishers.
In case you’re not familiar with their brand of journalism, they have a record of running and failing to correct inaccurate stories and of disseminating misogynistic and white nationalist viewpoints. It’s a site so pernicious that some 4,000 advertisers have severed ties with it.
Facebook wants to appear (and should be) neutral with regard to politics. That’s a noble and worthy goal. But to do it by choosing a controversial site—one that is akin to the National Enquirer—and to place it alongside other more reputable sources damages Facebook’s supposed objectivity.
In a tweet (since-deleted), Instagram-by-Facebook’s Adam Mosseri asked “do you really want a platform as big as Facebook embracing a political ideology?”
Okay, I’ll buy that. But I’ll tell you what I do want: I want your company to be vigilant about sites that traffic in conspiracy theories, disinformation, and disprovable lies. And to hold accountable companies that break the rules.
But Mosseri’s response uses their scale as a shield: a big company like ours shouldn’t be picking sides, he reasons.
If that’s the case, then why does a “platform as big as Facebook” also get to decide the news of tens or hundreds of millions of people? Facebook wants all of the power and none of the responsibility.
Mosseri also wrote:
“I’m not defending Breitbart, I’m asking if you really want a platform of our scale to make decisions to exclude news organizations based on their ideology? Put another way, do you care more about advancing your views than preserving freedom for diverse views to be on platforms?”
That misses the point. It’s not about ideology. It’s about choosing trusted news sources (Remember “lying is bad”? Mmkay?). There are plenty of other conservative sites and voices that are trustworthy and would rise above this selection.
It all comes back to trust (or lack of trust) with these guys. It’s their founding principle.
Growth is personal too
Another Mark Zuckerberg quote stood out to me this week. In an interview with Lester Holt of NBC News, Zuckerberg said,
“Part of growing up for me has just been realizing that it is more important to be understood than it is to be liked.”
I think Mark still may have some growing up to do.
First of all, he's not really doing a great job of explaining himself. But more importantly, he misses an essential part of what makes an emotionally intelligent leader.
In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People — itself an extension of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People — Steven Covey wrote:
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Seeking real understanding affirms the other person and what they have to say.”
A simple phrase, but try to do that in the middle of any given disagreement you’re having.
Much more difficult, isn’t it?
We're emotionally driven. And hard-wired to see the world through our own lens. Covey acknowledged this:
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Think of all of the years you spent learning: how to say the alphabet and count, how to read, how to add and subtract, how to write, the specifics of your chosen profession. But where among all of those years of education did you learn how to listen?
Recently, we explored Beethoven and how his highly developed sense of empathy allowed him to create music that still touches our souls today. Listening is the key to developing your emotional intelligence.
It’s also essential if you want to understand others—which must come before you attempt to get anyone to try to understand you.
Which gets me back to trying to understand Facebook’s decisions.
Perhaps it comes down to keeping not just an open mind, but an active mind. How is this achieved?
In Philosophy: Who Needs It? Ayn Rand—controversial figure that she is—counsels against
“a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance”
Her solution lies in reflection. Not just challenging others, but challenging ourselves. Not just listening to others, but engaging with them.
How appropriate then, that during some reflection at church, I heard the hymn “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.”
The hymn, written in 1967 by Sebastian Temple, is a musical variation of The Prayer of St. Francis. And in that prayer, we see one of the habits that Dr. Covey evangelized:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Interestingly, the prayer was written in 1912 and was not originally associated with St. Francis. It was through translations and a simple misunderstanding that, in the following 15 years, the two became intertwined.
But here's where I think there’s an interesting parallel with the kind of stewardship we need from Facebook today.
St. Francis of Assisi is most closely associated with nature and the environment. In popular images, you'll see him depicted as surrounded by animals. In 1979, Pope John Paul II declared St. Francis the Patron Saint of Ecology.
Given that the reflection above asks us to seek understanding before being understood, it’s incumbent upon Facebook to try to understand the problems that people — including its own employees, who are now calling for a change to its political ads — are having with its decisions.
For Zuckerbook, the attention has been focused on financial growth and on trying to be understood, not liked.
But maybe the attention needs to be on what type of environment Facebook is creating for society.
Because right now, Mark Zuckerberg is a digital arsonist.
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.” – Ferris Bueller
We’ve come to believe that much of what's wrong with the younger generations can be tied to technology. However, new research puts that assumption into question: as with any new developments, there are trade-offs. The new claim: Social Media Has Not Destroyed a Generation (Scientific American)
The advertising world has seen a drastic change since the days of Mad Men (but then again, so has everything else). Advertisers are paying agencies less and consumers can pay to avoid ads. The Advertising Industry Has a Problem: People Hate Ads. (New York Times)
Because marketing is so broad (and sometimes loosely defined), CMO titles are waning, with other C-level titles taking their place (growth, experience, revenue). Expect CMOs to play a greater role in employee loyalty and attracting talent, engaging consumers in shaping brands and products, and more scrutiny on tech spending. (Wall Street Journal)
“I have gathered a posy of other men's flowers, and only the thread that binds them is mine own.” – Michel de Montaigne
The 7 Habits: Seek to Understand, Then to Be Understood is a deeper look at one of Covey’s habits. (The Art of Manliness)
Tomorrow is Halloween, and that means it’s the night that the Great Pumpkin “rises out of the pumpkin patch and flies through the air and brings toys to all the children in the world.” The origins of Linus’s pumpkin deity (JSTOR)
From giving yourself the luxury of changing your mind to the power of generosity and building pockets of stillness into your life, Maria Popova has 13 Life-Learnings from 13 Years of Brain Pickings. (Brain Pickings)
"Let me recommend this book." – Arthur Conan Doyle
The Walk is a podcast about health, fitness, weight loss, physical and spiritual well-being, and consists of reflections as the host walks along the Camino. Hosted by Father Roderick, a Dutch Catholic priest who was the Vatican’s original podcaster. His other podcasts have combined the Catholic faith with pop culture, such as Harry Potter and Star Wars.
One of the most inspiring and impactful books ever written, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has captivated readers for 25 years. It has transformed the lives of presidents and CEOs, educators, and parents—in short, millions of people of all ages and occupations across the world.
What else is influencing me? You can check out my sources of inspiration on my site or in the Timeless and Timely Flipboard magazine I curate.
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