Jeez, we'll do something about Facebook murder vids, moans Zuckerberg

OK, OK, we'll hire 3,000 people to police our site, sighs CEO

Culture

Although it is easy to see the issue in terms of Facebook as a highly successful company trying to deal with its own massive user base, increasingly people are starting to question the culture of the company itself.

A bank recently divulged that Facebook's ad team has told its executives that they could identify teenagers that were feeling "stressed," "anxious" or "nervous" and pitched it as a plus, saying that advertisers could target kids when they are "potentially more vulnerable." Facebook denies the report.

But a former Facebook exec wrote an article in which he argued that it sounds exactly like the company he worked for. He went into some detail about how Facebook ad teams push on political parties during elections, arguing that they can sway the results – while at the same time claiming the complete opposite in public.

"The question is not whether this can be done. It is whether Facebook should apply a moral filter to these decisions," wrote former product manager Antonio Garcia-Martinez. "Let's assume Facebook does target ads at depressed teens. My reaction? So what. Sometimes data behaves unethically."

That approach sums up much of the worst Silicon Valley tech bro culture: where people become little more than salable chunks of data and the push to make profits puts no value on moral and ethical judgments.

Additionally, just this week, another report covered an internal review into why women coders' submits were being rejected 35 per cent more often than those pushed by men. The review concluded that it was nothing to with gender but the seniority – or lack thereof – of the software engineers themselves: something that was taken by many to point to a lack of advancement for women in the company.

However, when the Wall Street Journal asked for a formal response, the Facebook spokesman gave a telling response: the first analysis was "incomplete and inaccurate – performed by a former Facebook engineer with an incomplete data set."

At Facebook, everything – even the feelings of its own staff – mean nothing compared to what the data and its analysis says.

Arrogant

That lack of humanity is further compounded by a petulant arrogance that has filtered down to Facebook employees from the very top.

A great example of that inability to admit fault came in the example of a famous Vietnam photo of nine-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc running away, naked, from a napalm attack in 1972.

When it was posted among six others to highlight photos that had "changed the history of warfare" by a user, Facebook decided it represented an image of child abuse and demanded it be taken down. When the user – Norwegian Tom Egeland – refused, he was suspended from the service.

When his case was taken up by Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, Facebook demanded that the newspaper remove or pixelate the photo. And it went one step further: when the prime minister of Norway herself, Erna Solberg, posted the picture to her account as a protest, Facebook reached into her account and deleted her post.

Faced with global criticism yet again, Facebook did what it has done many times in the past, and continues to do today – most recently with fake news – without learning the lesson: it changed its policies on this one aspect and went on as before.

As its former product manager noted this week: "The hard reality is that Facebook will never try to limit such use of their data unless the public uproar reaches such a crescendo as to be un-mutable ... But they'll slip that trap as soon as they can. And why shouldn't they? At least in the case of ads, the data and the clickthrough rates are on their side." ®


Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2017