June 11, 2020

The Incongruity Of Facebook’s So-Called Core Values

Founded in 2004, Facebook went public a mere eight years later on May 18, 2012. At the time of this writing, the market cap of Facebook was $661 billion. It had a whopping $71 billion in revenues in the fiscal year 2019. However you slice it, that is an incredible growth story in a short period.

That surge in overall value made one of its founders, Mark Zuckerberg, extremely wealthy. Zuckerberg—Facebook’s CEO—is estimated to be worth roughly $83 billion.

But let’s revisit two of those words in the previous paragraph, “value” and “worth.” The question I want to raise is whether Facebook is currently operating by its stated values. Furthermore, does it find worth in the employment of those values?

The issue of the day for Facebook is President Donald Trump, who is customarily posting inaccurate content to his “friends” via their platform. “We’ve been pretty clear on our policy that we think that it wouldn’t be right for us to do fact checks for politicians,” Zuckerberg defended. “I think in general, private companies probably shouldn’t be — or especially these platform companies — shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

As it related to the mail-in ballots issue as well as Trump’s ridiculously ludicrous post about the George Floyd protests, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Zuckerberg chose not to arbitrate how inaccurate Trump’s posts were on the platform.

Bottom line? He let it slide. He looked the other way. He put profit over purpose.

On the other hand, after placing a unique fact-checking label on two of Trump’s tweets, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey stated, “Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this. We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally.”

Any self-respecting organization professes a set of values which guide their operations. A lot of them read like a random set of fluffy nouns, adjectives, and verbs to appease watchdogs or to prove that they’ve got something they can point to if the press goes digging.

Other organizations craft their values with sincerity and meaning. Most importantly, they are acted upon at all times.

Facebook purports to operate by five core values. As they claim on their Facebook page, the five values “guide the way we work and the decisions we make each day to help achieve our mission.” I have no idea when the values were made official by Facebook, but since going public, it’s hard to suggest that Facebook has been using any of them as a values guidepost. Their worth is worthless.

Facebook employees are rebelling. Many are speaking out on Twitter and other platforms. Others are refusing to perform job functions.

Let’s examine all five specifically as it pertains to Zuckerberg’s decision not to provide any fact-checking labelling whatsoever to President Trump, or any politician for that matter.

Value #1: Be bold

“We encourage everyone to make bold decisions, even if that means being wrong some of the time.”

  • Analysis: What I find strange about “being bold” is that there are no grounds for going back after a wrong decision has been made. It may be a “bold decision” to not be the arbiter of the truth on Facebook (failing to put fact-checking labels on the posts of politicians who subject users to falsities). Still, I argue that history will show that boldness was the company’s greatest weakness. It will serve as one of society’s boldest blunders.

Value #2: Focus on impact

“We expect everyone at Facebook to be good at finding the biggest problems to work on.”

  • Analysis: What a colossal fail. The biggest problem of fake advertisements, let alone false claims made on Facebook posts by politicians are literally at your fingertips. Yet, it’s the company’s unwillingness to see how they are eroding democracy one pixel at a time. The impact is not being focused on whatsoever.

Value #3: Move fast

“We’re less afraid of making mistakes than we are of losing opportunities by moving too slowly.”

  • Analysis: Was it Zuckerberg who came up with “fail fast, fail often?” The opportunity at hand for Facebook is truth. The mistake is the company’s (and Zuckerberg’s) negligence to uphold it. By avoiding the hard truth that your unwillingness to slow down and realize you are making a humongous mistake suggests this value is worthless.

Value #4: Be open

“Informed people make better decisions & have a greater impact.”

  • Analysis: Zuckerberg has literally crafted a value & a related definition that invokes the most extensive degree of irony throughout the history of business. Why doesn’t Facebook help its customers make better decisions by placing fact-checking labels on such false content? That would be correctly employing its “be open” value.

Value #5: Build social value

“We expect everyone at Facebook to focus every day on how to build real value for the world in everything they do.”

  • Analysis: If democracy, truth & arbitrating fact from fiction isn’t building real value for the world, tell me what is…

Zuckerberg once said, “The question I ask myself almost every day is, ‘Am I doing the most important thing I could be doing?’”

I don’t think he is. The importance of the truth is far greater than anything, particularly as it pertains to elections and politics in general. Any self-serving CEO who cares more about power & profit than purpose & being a philalethist (‘lover of truth’) deserves to be questioned about his or her motives. I’m putting Zuckerberg at the top of that list.

University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business ethics professor Joseph Holt once wrote: “I suspect Zuckerberg does care about bringing people together, but only secondarily. His company’s actions consistently suggest its actual value is “Bringing people closer together is a nice plus,” but not as important as making as much money as possible for ourselves and our investors.”

Holt was commenting on the data privacy issues that embroiled Facebook for most of 2018. In particular, how the company allowed political data firm Cambridge Analytica “to access personal data from more than 50 million Facebook users to help Donald Trump become president.”

Facebook’s values failed to guide them to do the right thing then, and those same values are failing to stop President Trump and other politicians from incendiary, baseless, untrue postings. The company espouses its values but does not act upon them. That is not how leaders ought to lead.

Coincidentally, dozens of Facebook employees staged a virtual walkout on June 1 to protest how Zuckerberg is handling the situation. I’m confident more walkouts will be coming. Many more are going to use their voices and send the company into a downward spiral of negative press.

But just imagine if the company didn’t merely wax lyrical about its five core values and instead used them as a basis for ethically running the company, making decisions, and engaging with its stakeholders.

Imagine if it acted on the values, claiming them as a sense of worth for the company.

Imagine if.

Note: a version of this post was originally published to Forbes.


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