Again, on Facebook

Primer #1: The Facebook Dilemma

Primer #2: Operation Infektion

Primer #3: What Facebook Knew and Tried to Hide

Primer #4: On Facebook

I loved the middle years of Facebook. The optimism and the spirit of it all. Connecting the world, making it more open and better for everyone. And that optimism was everywhere in the world of tech startups. I worked with one during that time. It was great. Until it wasn’t.

There’s something to be said about thinking the thing you’re working on can never be bad. That notion can really fuel your day. It can drive you to work harder, faster, and more often. It can also blind you. When you refuse to stop, look twice, and listen more, you fail to see if the place you’re heading could end up being bad. I’m not talking about failure and failing often, all that pep talk stuff. I’m talking about the opposite of good. To the point where there are significant consequences.

I was hesitant to create a Facebook account all those years ago, but then close friends would tell me how great it was for getting your ideas out there. When true believers told me Mark Zuckerberg just had a more advanced view of privacy and that was a good thing, I paused, but then nodded and went along. Having a big private company control all my personal data sounded wrong, but then I continued to share personal data on my “timeline” anyway. Using the Login/Signup with Facebook button for other sites was weird to me, but eventually I used it all the time. The idea of scrolling forever looking for content to hit the like button on seemed sad, but there I was, scrolling and liking because it felt so delightful. So many red flags ignored, all in the name of wanting to be “liked.”

As the story of fake news, Russian trolls, and data misuse has continued to grow, my rage at the company has followed suit. It’s funny to think about how I used to see Facebook. It was a massive company full of young people working hard to change the world for the better, in a liberal state, with a cool vibe, building a product and a culture everyone was on board with. Despite my innate suspicion with corporations and cults, I failed to scrutinize Facebook in any real way. And as with most people who have used their product, that’s changing now.

Because now it’s painfully obvious they’re just like any monopoly who has abused power throughout history. They lack ethics, they fail to take responsibility, and they simply want their customers to trust them, no matter what. Those days are over.

At the top of the tech/startup food chain, Facebook set the tone. How it chose to work, what it valued, and what lines it would not cross. (Apparently there are no lines it would not cross.) In my experience in the tech space, so often companies were trying to be the Facebook of this or that, or create something like a Facebook feature or engagement metric. And it’s my biggest issue with the world of tech, as well as design, that can be found in so much of the scandals at Facebook.

That issue is this. In its vision, it proclaims it’s doing world-changing stuff that’s making a real difference in the lives of everyone who comes into contact with their mighty product/idea. Yet on the flip side, when something goes awry, the tepid response deflects any notion of responsibility because they are in no way in the business of effecting the real world lives of anyone who comes into contact with their inconsequential product/idea.

Facebook, as well as anyone in the tech or design space, can’t have it both ways.

The lesson in all of this, establish your ethics, and then hold firm. Because without them, you’re just an asshole trying to make a quick buck, regardless of the consequences. And as with Facebook, those consequences can be dire.

We can all hope for Facebook to be better. I want them to be. I’ll be following along from the outside as I deactivated my account last week. But also, anyone in the world of tech and design needs to take a hard look at Facebook and not be like them. We need more technologists, designers, and entrepreneurs to take responsibility for what they create, all the time. Not only when it’s making us look good, but also when it’s making us look really bad. Because with both the good and the bad, things turn out that way due to the actions we chose to take. And we simply have to take responsibility for our choices, there’s no other way forward.