21st century amorality
The Washington Post has an interesting [paywalled
] article about Mark Zuckerberg’s relationship with Donald Trump, and what this says about Facebook as a company.
It’s an in-depth read that shows how Facebook briefly struggled behind the scenes to get Trump to delete his recent post about sending the military in to deal with protesters. It obviously failed, but while Twitter then took action against the post, Facebook did everything it could to justify keeping it up.
The article uses leaked documents to show that what we already felt was true was indeed an official policy: Facebook has done everything it can to avoid the ire of conservative critics, things that many may consider immoral:
Facebook has constrained its efforts against false and misleading news, adopted a policy explicitly allowing politicians to lie, and even altered its news feed algorithm to neutralize claims that it was biased against conservative publishers, according to more than a dozen former and current employees and previously unreported documents obtained by The Washington Post. One of the documents shows it began as far back as 2015, when as a candidate Trump posted a video calling for a ban of Muslims entering the United States. Facebook’s executives declined to remove it, setting in motion an exception for political discourse.
But while it would be easy to decry Facebook as an immoral company for taking these steps, but I think it’s more useful to think of it as amoral. The company doesn’t view Trump and his fellow travellers as inherently ‘good’ or 'bad,’ and it doesn’t take steps like those above because it necessarily believes in them. Instead, it simply does whatever it needs to to maintain its current place in the world. It sets its sail to follow the political winds without ever explicitly flying a flag to show any true belief system beyond self-preservation.
If you look at big companies in fields like oil, agriculture, and tobacco, and how they’ve made decisions based primarily on survival, no matter how 'evil’ they might appear to others, you’ll see a lot of parallels in Facebook. The difference is, unlike Facebook, those other companies never had a cuddly image to begin with.
You could argue that the brands currently boycotting Facebook only have their own spending in mind as they face down a recession, but the PR benefit they receive from taking part in the boycott shows how the public in the 21st century expects a moral backbone from the companies they engage with. Facebook’s failure to recognise this may yet com back to bite it.