As some ex-Facebook executives speak out against the social network, Dr Simon Hayward from Cirrus comments in Management Today.

‘You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies,’ reads the poster of the film The Social Network. Some of those ex-friends seem to be coming out the woodwork this year to haunt founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Former executives and investors Sean Parker, Roger McNamee and most recently Chamath Palihapitiya, have all recently spoken out against the service. And they didn’t mince their words.

What is Facebook  doing about it?

In some industries, there are obvious unintended consequences that we expect them to clean up, sort out and take responsibility for. Think coal and smog/carbon dioxide.

But this case isn’t so black and white. Facebook doesn’t see its product as causing ‘pollution,’ but a genuine societal good, the ‘externalities’ of which it can remedy through research and action. Take its response to Palihapitiya’s (and by proxy McNamee’s and Parker’s) claims:

‘We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve. We’ve done a lot of work and research with outside experts and academics to understand the effects of our service on well-being, and we’re using it to inform our product development. We are also making significant investments more in people, technology and processes, and – as Mark Zuckerberg said on the last earnings call — we are willing to reduce our profitability to make sure the right investments are made.’

The ‘role’ of Facebook  can be found on their homepage: to bring the world closer together through sharing, expressing and discovery. But precisely it’s how that happens that is the point of concern. The platform now wields massive power and, as Spiderman’s uncle keeps telling us, with great power must come great responsibility.

When Facebook reached two billion users earlier this year, CPO Chris Cox said that ‘we’re getting to a size where it’s worth really taking a careful look at what are all the things that we can do to make social media the most positive force for good possible.’ The problem is that it just can’t convince people. A survey from The Verge in October found that Facebook was the least trusted of the big five tech companies (Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft) among Americans.

Facebook has to show commitment to counteracting these attitudes, which – as we have seen in the numerous cases plaguing Uber this year – show that a corrosive culture can lead to a embattled downward spiral. The key to stopping this is showing a commitment and recognition of what it got wrong and how it plans to change.

“Because Facebook is such an agile organisation, it constantly engages users with new developments,” says Simon Hayward, founder and CEO of leadership specialists Cirrus. “For many users, this is what makes it addictive. Facebook has once again demonstrated agility by responding to Palihapitiya’s criticism swiftly. The company has referred to its core purpose and values and demonstrated a willingness to place purpose before profit*. Many observers will be watching to see if future developments do indeed help Facebook become a more ‘positive force’.”

*Profit, incidentally, doesn’t seem to have been affected by any of this. Facebook’s Q3 net income was its best ever ($4.7bn against $2.6bn the year before) and Instagram tipped 800 million monthly users.

 © Management Today 2017

Read this article in full on the Management Today website.

 

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