Is Facebook having
- A) An existential crisis
- B) An attack of conscience
- C) A mid-life crisis
- D) None of the above?
Answers in the comments, please. Additional suggestions also welcome.
I askbecauseFacebook is surveying users to ask whether they think it cares about them.
Yes, it is literally using the word cares.
Thesurvey, which Facebooksays is being pushed to a small group of people, includes questions probing for users strength of feeling about Facebook(positive or negative), before asking them to elaborate onwhy they feelthat way.
One possibleresponse here reads: It does not protect my personal information.
Another: It does not give me control over what I see on Facebook and who sees what I post.
A third: It has too many advertisements.
Other questions ask respondentstoselect from a listwhich items they think best show Facebookcares about them, and vice versa, with pre-filledresponses here including privacy controls and data security; user support/offensive content reporting; News Feed; and messages/chat, to name a few.
One amusingly meta question asks users to qualify where exactly they are directing their negative and/or positive feelings:Facebook as a company, as an app/site, or Facebook as a collection of other humans (Facebook users).
Its a teenyglimpse intothe quasi-psychological burden of being the go-touser generated content platform cumsocial communication network for one billion+ people all over the planet.
Ive embedded a gallery of screenshots of some of the survey questions below,if youre curious to see the full lists, and what else Facebook isasking (and how it asks it) at leastcovering whatsasked if you follow the path ofresponding with a negative to its initial question about whether it cares.
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At the end of the survey Facebook says it will use the feedbackto help improve Facebook.
And improve it sure needs to.
Multipleitems in itslist of possible responses immediately bring to mind a raft of recent Facebook-related controversies whether its high level moves to furtherundermine user privacy; baffling content censorship decisions(yettardiness combating the spread of hate speech); an ad infestedNews Feed thats been guilty of algorithmically encouraging clickbait (and worse); andthe largescale shuttering ofmobile web access to Facebook messages to try to drive more downloads of FacebooksMessenger app (at the expense of letting users access messages how they please something TC columnist Jon Evans memorably dubbed malevolent design), to name just a very few.
Point is, when youre a one billion+ user content sharing platform thats principally engineered to algorithmically rank information to generate the most ad viewsfrom your users, while simultaneouslyleveraging your massive user-base toconsume other media distribution channels, intent onbecoming the primary meansfor all media distribution globally, well, youre not going to be able to step away from the political hot seat. No mattermany times you try to claim youre just a tech tool, not a media company.
So really its hard to know which reputation damaging controversyFacebookis fretting about the most here. If indeed concern about negative PR isitsmotivation for running this survey. (Ive asked Facebook for comment on its intentions with the polland will update this post with any response.)
But heres another possibility: Facebook ishopingto quantify whether Zucks personal brand ofpositive PR canbeat back the tide of negative Facebook news.
Notably, one question in the survey makes specific reference tothe past week and asks whether ausersopinion of Facebook has changed for the better, stayed the same or dialed downover this period.
Againtheres no mention of whichspecific event/events its fishing for a response to here.So what might Facebook be thinking about?
Last Wednesday there was the Chan Zuckerberg Initiatives announcement of a $3BN investmentit said it intends tomake over the next 10 years, with the headline-grabbing goal of curing, preventing or managing all human disease.
So perhaps Facebook is hoping its founders philanthropic side-line business, via the Limited Liability Companyheand his wifeannounced as the vehicle for99% of theirFacebook stockto at the end of last year, can be used to pop a halo atopFacebooks overall reputation warming users hearts with the thought that the platform giant is not just destroyingtheir privacy and micro-managingthe worldsattention with woefully inept algorithms designedto sell ads rather than understandculturalcontext its also tryingto cure cancer!
In other words, hello$3BN worth of positive PR.
But how far one positive PRstory however ambitiously framed and generously selffunded can stretch to reputation wash a tech giant whose command over information and attention spans has scaled so giganticit has, in all likelihood, the democracy-crushing ability to swing votes and sway elections, as well asthe amplydemonstratedcapacity to spread misinformation, hate speech and even spark or inflame large-scale violence remains to be seen.
A content platformgiantthat, in addition, continues to take a serious beasting for the terribly poor editorial decisions it makes to promote, demote or disappear entirelythe information and human stories that flow across its servers.And for the knock on effect thesedecisions haveon the populations and societiesconsuming increasing quantitiesof newsvia Facebooks massive media portal.
But hey, just solong as youdont call Facebooka media company!
(Oh and hey look! the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is currently hiring a chief spokespersonto ramp upthe quantity ofgood news stories spinning out ofthe LLP, and eke more value out of thecash mountain of tax sheltered Facebook profits that funds it. Experience in crisis communications is one of the listed responsibilities for the role )
Turns out a week isa very long time in Facebook negative headlines.Heres just a few examples from aquick search of Facebook-related news this past week
And just in case youre thinking thisweek might be an outlier on the Facebook bad news front, theweek before wasnt exactly free of PR-headaches for the tech giant either
Safe to say, there is an increasingly shrill toneto Zuckerbergs protestations that the global content platformhe commands, which pumps a daily digest of news, information and entertainment into the screens onits 1BN+ users, is not a media company.
We are a tech company, not a media company, he saidrecently, responding toa journalists question about whether Facebook intends to become a news editor.
We build the tools, we do not produce any content, he added.
Well, eitherhesnever heard the phrase the medium is the message. Or hes intentionally dodgingthe bullet and watching as it slams into the body politic.
Facebook is very obviously not just a tech tool, and to claim otherwise is disingenuous and downright dangerous as others have eloquently argued. The mega platform thatFacebook now commands isnot just dabblingwith data, its shaping peoples lives and lived experience.
Move fast and break things may not be the official company motto anymore, but Facebookneeds to do a lot more than run the odd concerned user surveyif itwants to demonstrateitsoutgrown its previously statedcavalier attitude to the wider repercussions of its actions.
If Facebook really wants to show it cares about the people subject to the power of its platform thenit needs to stop tryingto engineer aroundthe one thing it cant shirk: editorial responsibility. And recognize that it needs human editors, not just algorithms and moderators.
Heres anotherphrase Facebook should really ink onto its whiteboards: the personal is political.
Otherwise Zuck can carry on funneling a portion of his vast personalwealth into feel-good philanthropy projects in the hopes ahalo glow of enoughpositive headlines will be able to outweigh the constant stream of negative newsunderlining quite howmuch power Facebook is irresponsibly wielding.
But does he really think curing cancer iseasierthan accepting editorial responsibility?
One last phrase for Facebook to chew over: Power without responsibility.