The Strange Polarity Of Facebook's Moral Compass

For Facebook, 2018 came in like a lion, and went out like a really pissed-off Godzilla with a savagely bad hangover after the Mother of all New Year’s Eve parties.  In other words, it was not a good year.

As Zuckerberg’s 2018 shuddered to its close, it was disclosed that Facebook and Friends had opened our personal data kimonos for any of their “premier” partners. This was in direct violation of its own data privacy policy, which makes it even more reprehensible than usual.



This wasn’t a bone-headed fumbling of our personal information. This was a fully intentional plan to financially benefit from that data in a way we didn’t agree to, hide that fact from us and then deliberately lie about it on more than one occasion.

I was listening to a radio interview of this latest revelation when one of the analysts  -- social media expert and author Alexandria Samuel -- mused about when it was that Facebook lost its moral compass. She had been familiar with the company since its earliest days, having the opportunity to talk to Mark Zuckerberg personally. In her telling, Zuckerberg is an evangelist who had lost his way, drawn to the dark side by the corporate curse of profit and greed.

But Siva Vaidhyanathan, the Robertson Professor of Modern Media Studies at the University of Virgina, tells a different story in commentary for The Guardian -- and it’s one that seems much more plausible to me.

In Vaidhyanathan's view, Zuckerberg may indeed be an evangelist, although I suspect he’s more of a megalomaniac. Either way, he does have a mission. And that mission is not opposed to corporate skullduggery, but instead fully embraces it. Zuckerberg believes he’s out to change the world, while making a shitload of money along the way. And he’s fine with that.

That came as a revelation to me. I spent a good part of 2018 wondering how Facebook could have been so horrendously cavalier with our personal data. I put it down to corporate malfeasance. Public companies are not usually paragons of ethical efficacy. This is especially true when ethics and profitability are diametrically opposed to each other. This is the case with Facebook. In order for Facebook to maintain profitability with its current revenue model, it has to do things with our private data we’d rather not know about.

But even given the moral vacuum that can be found in most corporate boardrooms, Facebook’s brand of hubris in the face of increasingly disturbing revelations seems off-note -- out of kilter with the normal damage-control playbook. Vaidhyanathan’s analysis brings that cognitive dissonance into focus. And it’s a picture that is disturbing on many levels.

According to Vaidhyanathan, “Zuckerberg has two core principles from which he has never wavered. They are the founding tenets of Facebook. First, the more people use Facebook for more reasons for more time of the day the better those people will be. …  Zuckerberg truly believes that Facebook benefits humanity and we should use it more, not less. What’s good for Facebook is good for the world and vice-versa.

"Second, Zuckerberg deeply believes that the records of our interests, opinions, desires, and interactions with others should be shared as widely as possible so that companies like Facebook can make our lives better for us -- even without our knowledge or permission.”

Mark Zuckerberg is not the first tech company founder to have a seemingly ruthless god complex and a “bigger than any one of us” mission. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Larry Ellison; I could go on.

What is different this time is that Zuckerberg’s chosen revenue model runs completely counter to the idea of personal privacy. Yes, Google makes money from advertising, but the vast majority of that is delivered in response to a very intentional and conscious request on the part of the user. Facebook’s gaping vulnerability is that it can only be profitable by doing things of which we’re unaware. As Vaidhyanathan says, “Violating our privacy is in Facebook’s DNA.”

Which all leads to the question, “Are we okay with that?” I’ve been pondering this question myself. Obviously, I’m not okay with it. I just spent 720 words telling you so. But will I strip my profile from the platform?

I’m not sure. Give me a week to think about it.
3 comments about "The Strange Polarity Of Facebook's Moral Compass".
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  1. Tom Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, January 8, 2019 at 1:04 p.m.

    Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
    Zuck: Just ask
    Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
    [REDACTED FRIEND]: What? How'd you manage that one?
    Zuck: People just submitted it.
    Zuck: I don't know why.
    Zuck: They "trust me"
    Zuck: Dumb fucks

    ----  Instant messages sent by Zuckerberg during Facebook's early days, as reported by Business Insider (May 13, 2010)

    But it's okay. I'm sure that as Zuckerberg became wealthy and powerful beyond his wildest imagination, he also became more benevolent and trustworthy. /s 

  2. Becarren Schultz from Ameritest, January 8, 2019 at 1:17 p.m.

    @Tom Siebert, please tell me what you just posted was fictional?

    I have been in the advertising business for almost 24 years split between the agency world and quant research. As shocked as I am by what Facebook's C-Suite has done and found a way to lie and then be able sleep at night .... I am still in the same place: "Do I care enough to complete leave the FB community?" 

    What I do know is that the advertisers I take time to notice on FB have lost credibility with me as a human being and if I were in charge of all budgets, I wouldn't put paid advertising there ever again. Context is EVERYTHING, and that is what I know for sure after 24 years in this business.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 8, 2019 at 7:55 p.m.

    Change the world only if he is in charge and loads of $. Besides, there is another price to pay for lying to congress without such comfy digs. Russian gulag ? Let's see: jail or Russian goons ? Ask Manafort.

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