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The Financial Express

Has Facebook crossed the line?


Has Facebook crossed the line?

Former Facebook data scientist and product manager, Frances Haugen, has revealed that crass profit motive is what drives the social media platform. To quote Reuters, Ms Haugen said, " the company's leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won't make necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people". To the American television and radio network, CBS, she said that Facebook's business model promoted hate speech, damaged democracy to the extent that it has been tearing our society apart.

These are undoubtedly serious allegations as these are not coming from any aggrieved quarter affected by the social media giant's content or policy. This is the view of an insider who worked for the company and is now, it appears, disillusioned. Ms Haugen in her complaints never said that Facebook in any way had deprived her of her dues or that she had any personal score to settle with her former employer. Then why did she during a Senate hearing so scathingly criticised her former employer? She even compared the social media services to addictive substances like tobacco and opioids! The company entices its users to keep scrolling so that the advertisers might reach them, she further alleged.

As a whistleblower she also reported to the Wall Street Journal how Facebook's photo-sharing application, Instagram, impacted teenage girl's mental health. To all intents and purposes, the whistleblower felt threatened by the social media behemoth's policy, for, as she saw it, it did not seem to care about the basic norms and values of a democratic society which are so close to her heart.

But such allegations against the Facebook are not new. It may be recalled at this point, as AFP reported about a year back, the letter that more than 40 civil rights groups had sent to the social media platform's CEO, Zuckerberg, wherein they demanded that Facebook's India policy chief Ankhi Das be removed. Why did the rights groups raise such a demand? In fact, the rights groups were reacting to Facebook's handling of the incendiary remarks against a minority community made by one of India's ruling party members. The letter as reported on September 10, 2020 in the Agence France Presse, ran, "Facebook should not be complicit in more offline violence, much less another genocide, but the pattern of inaction displayed by the company is reckless to the point of complicity. "But unperturbed, Facebook went its own way. As Facebook failed to moderate hate speech and misinformation on its platform, some 400 companies including Coca-Cola, Adidas/Reebok, Hershey's, among the big brands, suspended giving ads to the Facebook, so reported Rolling Stone in its July 1, 2020 issue.

But nothing changed despite these past protests and allegations. And now we have this whistle blowing rebel, a former employee of the company, who thinks enough is enough. Will Zuckerberg and his Facebook change after the dropping of this bombshell by Frances Haugen, his erstwhile product manager? Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, asked Zuckerberg to testify before the Senate committee. Further, he called for an investigation to be carried out by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission into the conduct of Zuckerberg's social media platform, Facebook.

So, what has Zuckerberg said in response?

In a statement posted to Facebook on October 5, he, as reported by ABC News, said, "At the most basic level, I think most of us don't recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted." Also, agencies further quoted him as stating in the said Facebook post, "The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical." Clearly, it is a complete denial of the allegations brought against Facebook by the whistleblower, Frances Haugen. And there is nothing surprising in it. For why should a businessman under the capitalist system be ashamed of being profit-hungry? And if it is not to make profit, then why is a business for? So, the argument of having 'profit motive' against a businessman, perhaps, cannot hold much water in a system that stands on the philosophy of making profit. That is why he considered Haugen's portrayal of Facebook a 'false picture'. Then on what ground have US lawmakers been clamouring for regulatory intervention in Facebook's affairs? 

Though capitalism is nothing if it is not about making profit, it still draws the line at some point. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, is now under public scrutiny because, it has been suggested that he has crossed the line. Maybe, the allegations that Instagram's addictive contents have been leaving harmful effect on teenage girls' minds or that Facebook has been instrumental in spreading hate to the detriment of democracy are being looked upon as having 'crossed the line.' Had it not been the case one wonders how could a highly polarised house of US politics agree on the issue of investigating Facebook?

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