28 October, 2021
We can’t only do good, all of the time. While businesses try to bring about positive impacts on society, whether they like it or not, there are also likely to be negatives. The car that can takes us to meet loved ones also contributes to climate change. The delicious food that sustains us can lead to obesity. The bank that helps us manage our money for the future can fund arms sales with our savings. These negatives need to be managed, and managed effectively, and businesses need to be honest about these impacts. In an era of rising responsible capitalism, there are solutions to all of this.
So what? Well, Facebook is in the headlines, as the whistle-blower Frances Haugen told a parliamentary hearing that the company has prioritised profit over safety. Mark Zuckerberg, however, seems to think this is some sort of vast conspiracy. It is clear Facebook is aware of the harm it can cause; exacerbating poor teenage mental health, accelerating political polarisation, fuelling misinformation. And it has taken some measures to moderate these forces, but not nearly commensurate to the size of the issues. In place of a grown-up conversation about the benefits (undeniable) of social media and the disadvantages, we get defensiveness, rebuttal and obfuscation.
The unwillingness to accept responsibility puts Facebook in a precarious position; its popularity is declining amongst young people who think the platform is “boring, misleading and negative”, and regulation is being forced upon it, rather than arrived at through consensual engagement.
No, it’s not going to be easy, especially in a virtual world inundated with constantly generated content. But it’s time for Facebook to post some reality, be transparent, and seek improvement. To meet the demands of today, and tomorrow, all businesses need to find ways to recognise, measure and limit the negative impacts from products and services, whilst celebrating the positives of driving, eating, banking and connecting.
By Alice Railton