Why it's unethical for businesses to use Facebook

It's time for all companies to stop using Facebook services, software, hardware and advertising. Here's why.

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Facebook wants businesses of all sizes, especially large enterprises, to use its tools for business. But that would be a mistake and I’ll tell you why. But first, the news: Facebook made several announcements this month intended to bring more businesses into the Facebook fold.

The most interesting may be a follow-on to CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s promise early last year to unify its Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp services.

At the time, Facebook characterized the integration of its platforms as a benefit for users and privacy, but critics derided it as ploy to make it harder for antitrust regulators to break up the company and also to make the company more anti-competitive. (Facebook's total user base reportedly includes some 2.6 billion people, a deliriously large number of people that makes everything they do extremely consequential to nations, governments, the world's population and every business.)

The company announced this month a new app called Facebook Business Suite that enables business owners to manage their profiles and pages on Facebook, Messenger and Instagram. Businesses can use the app to make a single post that shows up on both Facebook and Instagram. It can also be used to track ad campaigns.

In hardware news, Facebook recently announced a partnership with global eyeglasses monopoly Luxottica to ship Ray Ban-branded Facebook smart glasses next year, a move that was reported through sources a year ago and which is known internally at Facebook as Project Aria. The glasses would presumably compete with Apple’s first smart glasses, which could come as early as next year as well.

Facebook also recently lowered the price of its Oculus virtual reality goggles for enterprises, called Quest, to $800 per unit. The business offering was first announced in May, and it’s already been discounted.

The company last month announced a new policy that requires a Facebook login to use future Oculus headsets.

It's likely that smart glasses will eventually surpass smartphones as the main device consumers and business people alike will use to communicate and access the internet, so Facebook's move put that company into a direct competition with Apple (and others) to own the future.

And speaking of integrating things, Facebook also announced this month that its Workplace product on Portal will support BlueJeans, GoToMeeting, Webex and Zoom apps (Zoom was already supported), enabling work-from-home employees to use Facebook Portals for work-related business calls.

It’s clear that Facebook wants far more business customers — more advertisers, more businesses using their tools for expanding a social presence across their platforms and more enterprise buy-in for their virtual reality systems.

So, what’s wrong with that?

The trouble with Facebook

Facebook is using convenience, integration and price cuts to win more business customers. And the company will probably make their offerings even more tempting and powerful in the future.

Which raises the question for businesses: Is it ethical to embrace Facebook with all the controversies associated with that company?

Facebook is notorious for repeated transgressions in the areas of infrastructure, security, privacy and human rights.

The company has drawn criticism for its lackluster response to the spread of dangerous disinformation.

One study found that Facebook was a major source of misinformation about fentanyl, ultimately exposing some 70 million people to dangerous information between 2015 and 2019.      

The social network is frequently accused of undermining democracies around the world by allowing authoritarian regimes to spread misinformation, harass critics and damage journalists' reputations and democratic institutions with smear campaigns.

Facebook has become the main medium for conspiracy theorists and the main way new people are converted into believing in them. Literally thousands of sites promoting the Qanon conspiracy theories live on Facebook, with millions of followers.

Related to that is that Facebook has been criticized for doing nothing to stop violent racist groups from organizing armed rallies on their Facebook pages.

Facebook itself found that the main reason people followed the rabbit holes to extremist content on Facebook, the platform, is that Facebook, the company, explicitly recommended these organizations to users. When confronted with this fact, Zuckerberg himself made the decision to do nothing about it.

The FTC is likely preparing a case against Facebook for using its dominance in social media to stifle competition.

Why it's unethical to use Facebook

Facebook is controversial, which means that some people oppose the company's policies and practices and other people don't.

The case in favor of Facebook is that as everybody's everything social network, they're caught between an impossible series of both rocks and hard places on curbing objectionable speech vs allowing free speech; tracking users and violating their privacy vs ceding business to competitors; giving people what they actually want vs giving people only what they should want; and others.

Reasonable people can argue that Facebook is an unethical company and also that Facebook is an ethical company.

But the question for businesses to consider is not the ethical choices of Facebook, but the ethical choices of employees.

As a matter of objective fact, people and organizations do protest Facebook. There has been a trickle of campaigns, including a widely ridiculed attempt by celebrities like Kim Kardashian West, Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Ruffalo to impact Facebook policies by refusing to post on Facebook or Instagram for a full day

High profile rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, Color of Change, Free Press, and the National Hispanic Media Coalition have called on businesses to stop using Instagram for Facebook's failure to addresses the growth and spread of hate groups on its platforms.

Major US companies like Unilever, Microsoft, Reebok, Verizon, Patagonia, Eddie Bauer, Hershey's, Upwork, Mozilla, Levi Strauss, HP, Best Buy, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Clorox, Ford and others have either joined boycotts or protest-paused ad campaigns in response to Facebooks lapses in ethics.

So even when businesses seek neutrality in political, cultural or international controversies, it's a reality and a fact that individual citizens do have both the right and a reasonable obligation to boycott Facebook.

To be neutral on Facebook's many transgressions, lapses and controversies by using Facebook anyway is to choose sides -- Facebook's side -- because by doing so you're forcing principled employees to reward the very company they would otherwise punish.

In other words, by embracing Facebook as a company, you're forcing Facebook on employees, including the ones taking a principled stand against the company.

And taking a principled stand against Facebook is not some obscure, fringe act. It's something done by democratic governments, major corporations, human rights organizations and even Kim Kardashian.

So when your employees boycott Facebook, it's unreasonable for a company to force them to break their boycott as part of their job.

And that's why it's unethical for businesses to use Facebook.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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