Facebook Unwilling to Take Action
Facebook has not been acting to catch false and misleading information that they already know about that can damage the election. Mark Zuckerberg has been adamant about protecting the social media giant’s users posts and saying they are monitoring what is being posted/said most recently about the 2020 election and also the COVID-19 pandemic but has done nothing about it. Although, he has not stuck to his word and has allowed fraudulent information to be posted time and time again, Zuckerberg will continuously state that “they are doing what they can”.
Facebook most likely won’t face very much backlash in regards to their actions, or lack thereof, from many of their users because of the power and stature the company has. An individualist would agree with Facebook’s recent strategy and actions in regards to the censoring of posts with false information surrounding the pandemic and the election. According to Utilitarian beliefs, Facebook is playing both sides due to them turning a blind eye to fraud posts, which maximizes happiness for some, while angers another side because they do not want to see fraud all over their timeline. Kantianism would argue that Facebook does not coincide with their beliefs because they are not doing what is right because it is right. A believer in the four virtue theories (courage, honesty, self-control, and justice/fairness) would disapprove of Facebook’s actions because they do not follow any of them in regards to being “ethical”. Using each of these ethical theories as a baseline, Facebook needs to improve their entire process because they do not show any semblance of following any ethical practices.
Ethics Case Controversy
Mark Zuckerberg wanted to prepare people for the 2020 United States Presidential Election by giving/placing warnings on posts. Most importantly, Zuckerberg wanted to clear misinformation about the pandemic and voting by attaching a link to each and every one of those posts. Zuckerberg and his wife donated more than $300M in order to help strengthen election security. Personally, Mark Zuckerberg did not believe that the 2020 election would be rigged and said that he would certainly apply the warning/restriction tag to the POTUS posts. "The thing that I'm very sensitive [about] is having us be the ultimate deciders of what is right and wrong and true and false in the world" (cbsnews.com). This shows how Mark Zuckerberg is going back on his word because he says that he is all about what is right and what is wrong, yet when his company does the wrong thing by selling their “customer’s” (users) information and selling it Facebook’s advertisers without consent or knowledge from the people that they are taking it from, he sheds a blind eye and sees nothing. Zuckerberg stated in an interview with Gayle king that the social media giant is going to be putting warning flags on misleading and false information on both of their major social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram. “But we're also going to be acting on content that people try to put out there, that says that it is fraudulent…” (cbsnews.com). If Zuckerberg is adamant about flagging and giving forewarning about potential fraud in relation to the pandemic and the 2020 election, then he should be doing it on everything else and not just picking and choosing what he thinks meets the criteria.
Cyberattacks are always a potential threat in any election, but now more than ever are they a threat due to the advancements in technology and knowledge of foreign countries, even just over a 4-year period from 2016 to 2020. November 3rd, 2020 will test the preparation over the last four years that has been instilled in order to protect us from a cyberattack. The longer the election goes on, the more likely or higher chance there is of potentially being a cyberattack with an abundance of fraud information that will be all over social media platforms. There is growing concern though that there could be potentially a repeat of what happened during the 2016 election, which was Russia interfering and creating rifts both domestically and on foreign territories (wsj.com, Uberti). Christopher Krebs, who is part of the Department of Homeland Security, stated “We remain confident that no foreign cyber actor can change your vote… But that doesn’t mean various actors won’t try to introduce chaos into our elections and make sensationalist claims that overstate their capabilities.” (wsj.com, Uberti) Facebook said that they will label content that states mail-in-voting is fraudulent and label whether a candidate declares victory before the final election results have been called.
As much as there is a worry of foreign cyberattacks, there is just as much of a chance that there may be domestic attacks attempting to influence the election. There is a general feeling that domestically, the misinformation being spread will have a greater impact than foreign attempts of attacks. Yoel Roth, Twitter head of site integrity, stated “In some ways, the people who know the most about how to mislead Americans are other Americans" (npr.org, Myre/Bond). This statement by Roth indicates the fear that there is going around that Americans are the more likely ones to spread the false information. For example, former Vice President (now President elect) Joe Biden called out Facebook’s decisions to not hold current President Donald Trump accountable for his posts, which does not fit into/follow Facebook’s policies. Biden stated, “By now Mr. Trump clearly understands that Facebook will not hold him to their clearly stated policies” (npr.org, Myre/Bond). Joe Biden and his campaign are clearly frustrated by the false information being spread by our very own President that is not being monitored or flagged by arguably the biggest and most notable social media platform on the market today, which is Facebook.
Facebook has never been an organization to mute politician’s posts or fact check them, even if they are suspect (americanprogress.org, Conner/Simpson). The election may take multiple days and up to a week to decide if it is not decided on Tuesday November 3rd. This would allow for politicians, both big and small, to potentially claim victories when the final results of the election have not been determined or confirmed yet, setting up potentially a dangerous situation. Facebook not implementing a system of checks and balances can be harmful for them, as well as impact the election and potentially skew it one way or another.
Each and every social media platform has stated that they will do what they can in order to remove disinformation regarding the pandemic and the 2020 election. Facebook stated that it has removed more than 7 million posts regarding the pandemic on both its main site as well as Instagram yet failed to remove a video before it was viewed 20 million times containing individuals claiming to be “doctors” saying that “you don’t need a mask to protect yourself from COVID-19” (time.com, Bergengruen). This coincides with Facebook not fact checking misinformation politician’s posts or ads with warning flags of false claims. Mark Zuckerberg defends his decision to do this because he says that users and listeners should be hearing from the candidates directly and he doesn’t want to take away their right of free speech on his platform.
Facebook itself is a major stakeholder in the situation that they have put themselves in with their handling of their user’s posts containing disinformation about the election. As a company, Facebook knows the impact it could potentially have on the election but are too worried about their own agenda to stop anyone who feels the need to post fake news on their platform. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of the social media giant, certainly has a lot on the line (mostly his reputation) as well because if the situation is not handled correctly, then he and the company itself could lose billions of dollars. Zuckerberg’s situation relates to the shareholders (individuals who own stock) of Facebook because if the company’s stock takes a significant hit as more negative information is revealed, then those individuals will lose a great deal of money as well. This reflects poorly on them for investing in a company like that and reflects negatively on Zuckerberg also for running a company like that. Lastly, the stakeholders in the situation that would be impacted the most are the daily users of Facebook because their interactions and experience on the social media platform are determined by how and what upper management of the company puts in front of them when they are on the app.
The belief of individualism is the goal of maximizing profits for a specific individual, as well as maximizing profits for the stakeholders of a specific company and acting in their best interests. Facebook’s situation does relate to individualism because they only care about maximizing profits for Mark Zuckerberg and the company of Facebook itself by not totally acting in their best interests. If Facebook actually cared about something or someone other than itself, then they would have cared about the false information and lies being spread across their platform impacting people’s decision making. The company has a history of this not only in relation to the pandemic and the most recent election, but with using their customers information without them knowing and selling it to advertisers for millions and millions of dollars going into their pockets. This is not in the company’s best interests because the backlash they have faced and are facing currently put the company in a negative spotlight, which hurt the company in the long run, all because they were greedy and wanted a short-term money gain.
The theory of utilitarianism is the belief that an action can be perceived as ethical if it is maximizing and promoting happiness to the greatest amount of people possible. Facebook case does both agree as well as disagree with utilitarianism because it is maximizing the happiness of the people who feel the false and misleading posts are immoral and wrong to do and flagging the ones they choose to, while it also does not maximize the happiness of those believing that their right of free speech is being muted when the company does decide to flag certain posts. The side of the people that believe Facebook flagging the posts they pick and choose to are doing the right thing. Those specific individuals have their happiness maximized because they deem what Facebook is doing ethical when the company chooses to do it, which happens to be not often. The other side of this situation are the people who are having their posts, about the election and pandemic, flagged with warnings stating that there might be potentially false information in the post. These individuals feel that their freedom of speech is being muted and that the company of Facebook is not allowing them to “use their right” to post. The actions that Facebook are conducting themselves towards user’s posts can be deemed both ethical as well as unethical because happiness is being maximized on one side of the spectrum, while it is certainly at a minimum for the people feel they are being muted.
Facebook does not follow Kantianism because they are not doing what is right because it is right. The organization is not making decisions out of good will and only basing their choices off of their own self-interests. Facebook has repeatedly shown that they don’t care what is posted and why they only flag very few posts every now and again that they ultimately believe shouldn’t be on the platform. Instead of looking out for others and doing what is right because it is right, Facebook turned a blind eye in regards to the early stages and currently during the pandemic, as well as leading up to the 2020 Presidential Election. There were numerous accounts posting day in and day out about how the COVID-19 pandemic was not real and how we shouldn’t be listening to the government and proceed as normal with how we had been going about our lives. Facebook did not monitor any of these posts and allowed those accounts to continue actively on their platform. Another example would be the President of the United States, Donald Trump, posting numerous times about how the election was going to be rigged because of the mail-in voting and that it was going to impact his chances at winning. Up until the election there was no evidence or validity to his statements, especially in past elections where there had been mail-in voting. Mark Zuckerberg stated that his company would be flagging anyone and everyone that was spewing false information, including the President, but he didn’t and proved the unethical practices he and his company follows. If Zuckerberg wanted to act in an ethical manner he would have stuck to his word and followed through, but he didn’t and that’s why there is controversy surrounding the company now.
The four cardinal virtues in business ethics are as follows: temperance, justice, honesty, and courage. Facebook does not follow any of the four cardinal virtues with their actions. Temperance relates to self-control and Facebook showed no self-control in relation to monitoring the posts during a critical time, knowing what their users saw could possibly impact an election. The company also revealed no signs of serving justice to those who felt the need to spew erroneous information all over their platform and ban them from using Facebook because of their potentially harmful actions. This showed no signs of courage as well because Facebook as a whole could not deviate from their own agenda and only cared about the amount of users and clicks they were generating on their site because that generates money and that is all Facebook cares about. Zuckerberg continuously stated the company’s plan to act upon flawed information/posts in the right way, yet just was dishonest and didn’t care enough to protect the integrity of one of the most important elections in United States history or the safety of United States citizens in regards to the false posts about the pandemic.
Facebook clearly is not doing right by any one of their customers because they are not giving forewarning about what is right and what is wrong in terms of the two most serious matters at the current time, the election and the pandemic. I understand that Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook want to protect their image by flagging potentially fraudulent posts about those two important topics, but it seems as if the media giant is not doing right by themselves and their customers/users because they are not living up to their word. Ethically and morally, Facebook has not always been a clean company with their actions. When they were found to have been selling and accessing their user’s information without their consent/permission, was a big controversy surrounding the company. Because Facebook is allowing its users to post whatever they want in terms of the election and the pandemic shows and reveals what kind of morals they have. Fraudulent information is being posted all over Facebook in regards to the election by foreign countries and individuals domestically in the United States as well, which certainly could have impacted the outcome if users were to believe the information being presented in front of them.
The current issue with Facebook is that it is having to deal with a plethora of information regarding the coronavirus pandemic as well as the 2020 United States Presidential Election that happens to be untrue and they are not doing anything about it. This creates a division between people because there are people who are pleading for Facebook to warn and limit the false information popping up on their timeline, while the other side is saying that their right of free speech will be muted if Facebook decides to flag or remove the posts. One way that Facebook could resolve this problem is come out and be brutally honest and say, “We will try our best to remove utterly false information that does not coincide with what we deem to be correct or safe and shines a bad light on our company.” And what will really make people happy is if the company actually follows up on their statement with legitimate actions. A proper mission statement for Facebook would be, “We as a company believe in the best user experience possible and want to ensure the information posted all across our platform(s) regarding serious issues like COVID-19 and the Presidential Election are the most accurate and truthful it possibly can be.” This statement is different and an improvement from Facebook’s itself because they are being extremely vague and not laying out what their issues are, they simply are just saying they want to eliminate problems. The core values that Facebook should emphasize the most are user experience, honesty, truthfulness, and courageousness. User experience should be the company’s number one priority because of the popularity of the platform and the amount of traffic that goes on it each day. Honesty, truthfulness, and courageousness should also be valued by Facebook because being honest and truthful are important not only to their users, but their stockholders as well. If it is discovered that the company is doing something illegal behind the scenes and they were saying the complete opposite the entire time they were doing it, then that will be a major hit to the company. Although if they are honest and say they were doing wrong and took accountability, that shows courage and makes it more likely the company will rebound from their mistakes. In the future, Facebook can have discussions with employees about the proper steps to limit or eliminate false information completely from being posted and implement certain protocols during unprecedented times to make sure there is not an abundance of information that can’t be stopped from being spread. Hiring the right employees that fit into what and where the company is heading to and firing the employees who disagree with the company’s policies and the steps that should be taken in order to ensure the safety of all and solidify a solid workplace are what Facebook should do to take a step in eliminating false information from its platform. The new employees coming into the company should also be trained on the right methods and protocols of the company in order to be fully effective. Remarketing their brand in a positive light by putting themselves out there in the community and using their resources to assist others can also help reshape the company’s image in the eyes of the general public. This new plan helps promote profits because the positive light will be shined on the company and people will support Facebook. It also includes courageousness because it is showing that the company cares about the community they are involved with and wants to help improve with their resources. Lastly, it ensures good ethics because there is no possible way that the protocols that can be implemented and the actions Facebook would take can be turned into unethical actions that hurt the company’s future.
Facebook certainly has had their fair share of mistakes over the last 18 months, up to 2 years and counting. Although, they will continuously be in the news whether it is positive or negative because they are one of the big 5 tech companies including Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft. If Facebook takes the correct actions, they ultimately can repair their image that they have damaged overtime and be in the positive light like they were at their genesis and during their rise to fame.