Facebook’s culture can be fixed—by resetting its objectives

p 1 latform delusion jonathan knee

By Jonathan A. Knee 4 minute Learn

Inadvertently giving a buyer an excuse to attempt one thing else is a very dangerous concept. Holding on to common customers requires relentless vigilance on product, on know-how, and on customer support for starters. And when the enterprise you’re in is social networking, it requires belief. And a collection of company scandals at Fb have shaken the belief of the person base—not simply members, thousands and thousands of whom have discovered the best way to drop the service, but in addition advertisers.

Cambridge Analytica, Russian (and Iranian and others) affect campaigns; privateness violations; using the platform to unfold hate, faux information, and even facilitate genocide; secret data-sharing agreements; safety bugs; shady opposition analysis operations; inflated person metrics . . . and that was simply 2018. Shockingly, this catalog of unlucky occasions really adopted CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s New Yr’s pledge to make it his “private problem” to concentrate on “fixing” the problems associated to misuse of the platform that had already emerged earlier than that point. Since then, at the least in line with a weblog submit by a gaggle of nameless Fb workers, “issues have gotten worse” on quite a lot of present and new fronts, from more and more vocal costs of institutional racism to an worker “digital walkout” protesting the corporate’s continued refusal to police political speech, irrespective of how inflammatory, to intermittent advertiser boycotts.


When the consultants weighed in on what went incorrect at Fb, they overwhelmingly pointed to its culture. Particularly, the story goes that its “cult-like” culture “has contributed to the corporate’s well-publicized wave of scandals” by discouraging dissent, utilizing the “stack-ranking” efficiency pioneered by Jack Welch at Normal Electrical within the Nineties, and utilizing peer critiques to artificially encourage collaboration.

Sarcastically, till lately, Facebook’s robust culture had been ceaselessly cited—even by those that now noticed it because the supply of the difficulty—as possibly even “the best-run firm in know-how.” What’s extra, the extraordinary mission-driven efficiency culture was sometimes given as a key driver of why it was ranked for the third 12 months in 2018 as the one finest place to work in America. After the scandals of 2018, the corporate fell to quantity 7 (marking the ninth consecutive 12 months on the record) and was nonetheless greater ranked than any of the opposite FAANG firms.The next 12 months it fell one other 16 slots to twenty third, falling behind Google and even Microsoft.

There may be clearly an issue at Fb. It’s not clear, nevertheless, that its maniacal dedication to steady enchancment is the issue. Relatively, the issue would appear to be the narrowness of the objectives upon which these enhancements had been utilized and their relative precedence. The structural fragility of even the most important social networks calls for that defending belief requires a vastly broader and extra nuanced set of company goals than optimizing buyer engagement and short-term monetization.

The vary of points which have threatened Fb really spotlight the necessity for higher, not relaxed, working self-discipline. As a person or an advertiser, I like the thought of a cult dedicated to defending the integrity of the community within the face of every part from hostile governments, rip-off advertisements, and pretend profiles. The issue has not been that Fb is a cult. The issue is the tip to which that cult has been devoted.

Belief, as soon as damaged, is just not simply regained. Whether or not the present management at Fb is as much as the duty stays an open query. An irony, not broadly appreciated, is that there’s robust proof that Facebook’s monumental scale has enabled it to fight “faux information” and different subversive forces on the web way more successfully than its smaller friends. After the 2016 election, Fb employed 1000’s of engineers and content material moderators to nice impact. A current research demonstrates that this decreased the issue on Fb by greater than half, even whereas it continued to develop on different networks like Twitter. The truth that the general drawback of misinformation on social media has elevated over the last election cycle highlights the inherent challenges to successfully combating this scourge. However though the general public and regulators see Fb with some justification as the most important a part of the issue, it additionally has potential to be the most important a part of the answer.

This isn’t to indicate that anybody ought to really feel sorry for Fb or that it’s with out fault. To borrow from a superhero film, with nice energy comes nice accountability, and the bar for Fb ought to be considerably greater. However in designing optimum regulatory options, each the benefits and risks of scale should be thought of. And within the meantime, customers and advertisers don’t appear inclined to present Fb credit score for making an vital however essentially imperfect contribution to the issue of malicious use of the web no matter how a lot the corporate invests within the effort. However the truth that this can symbolize a seamless and doubtlessly intractable PR drawback for Fb doesn’t diminish the significance of Zuckerberg devoting his cult to doing every part it can to unravel the difficulty nonetheless.

The excellent news for Fb, or no matter various “social mechanic” succeeds it, is that the enterprise doesn’t rely merely on the flywheel of community results. If it did, current occasions would have ensured a swift exodus of customers to any variety of competing social platforms. As an alternative, the complicated internet of mutually reinforcing aggressive benefits that bolster the community results have purchased Fb one thing priceless within the in any other case mercilessly aggressive digital jungle: time to get it proper.


From The Platform Delusion: Who Wins and Who Loses within the Age of Tech Titans by Jonathan Knee with permission from Portfolio, an imprint of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random Home, LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Jonathan A. Knee.

Since 2014, Jonathan A. Knee has served because the Ebook Entry columnist for the New York Occasions Dealbook. He’s the Michael T. Fries Professor of Skilled Follow in Media and Know-how at Columbia Enterprise Faculty, the place he additionally serves as co-Director of the Media and Know-how Program.