How do we, as a society, respond to the ethical questions Facebook is asking?
A few weeks ago, Chris Hughes, one of Facebook’s co-founders, published an opinion piece in The New York Times, proposing to break up the organization, that holds the keys to Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Facebook, and especially CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has gained power beyond what’s right for the world, says Hughes.
The article rose a lot of attention, but I didn’t think more about the subject until today. I had a brief discussion about it on Twitter. The other person stated, he doubts the monopoly of Facebook and the dangers and damages it imposes on society. In short: The government should not break up the Facebook complex, the person wrote. There were a lot of alternatives to the big blue’s services from traditional text messages to rising stars like TikTok.
A different internet experience
At that exact moment, it occurred to me: This statement is dripping with western privilege. I grew up with message boards, blogs, forums, chat services, TeamSpeak, and independent websites. We experienced a free and diverse Web 2.0.
However, many countries stepping into the digital age in Asia and Africa have a completely different experience of the web. Pre-installed WhatsApp on mobile phones is crucial to customers in many African countries. In Zimbabwe, WhatsApp was responsible for half of all internet data in 2017.
And in 2015, a study in several Asian countries showed, people could not tell the difference between the internet and Facebook. No, they even didn’t realize they are using the internet when they login to Facebook.
A lack of responsibility
Facebook’s dominance has definitely led to some damage. Starting with data breaches and furthering partisan filter bubbles to more severe cases of spreading fake news via WhatsApp in India and Brazil, and outright hazardous events like the Rohingya had to suffer in Myanmar.
Of course, Facebook is by no means solely to blame for partisanship, hatred, and violence. But we cannot deny that their products are enabling these incidents.
Nevertheless, Facebook only showed many half-hearted attempts to improve upon global criticism, putting us as a society in a position in which we have to ask ourselves how we respond to challenges of this corporation with an apparent lack of social responsibility.
We should care
Should Western governments impose internet regulations upon foreign nations? I don’t think so.
Should we regulate how internet companies can operate abroad? Definitely, I’d say it’s our moral obligation.
It isn’t even unprecedented. Although with limited success, we do care about how other industries are working in other parts of the world, from the clothing industry to food, water, and resources. Probably next year, Switzerland will hold a vote on the referendum about corporate social responsibility, that proposes ground rules.
With GDPR, the EU is also forcing other internet users to comply. Whether this is a useful law or not may be debatable, but it demonstrates our ability to start a change.
I know, it’s hard to care about fake news, lack of data protection, or even violence on the other side of the globe – no matter which nation or company is contributing to it. I don’t have a solution for how to deal with any of it? Should Facebook be nationalized as the other person in the Twitter discussion suggested? No, I don’t think, the USA should be in charge of the world’s biggest communication platform.
But if we think we care about the environmental impact and human rights violations of different industries, we should do the same with internet companies, especially Facebook.