The social cost of questionable leadership at Facebook

Facebook Mission - To Make the world more open and connected

I stood there and I watched the faces of the concerned parents – this is a new era that has many of them confused, lost and petrified about the on-line dangers that could threaten any of their children at any time.

One of the parents relayed a story about her child who was being bullied by others on Facebook – in this scenario she spotted the danger, jumped in and her daughter confronted the person who was saying these nasty things. She received an immediate apology, the activity ceased and it turns out the “culprit” didn’t fully realise the damage and harm they were causing by posting silly but hurtful remarks.

For some reason many of us behave different online – in a way it’s like shouting and roaring at people from the safety of your car. Would you do that on the street?

Online many of us lose our manners, we get nasty, we get personal and we have no bother pulling the trigger and firing abuse at other people.

Would you do it to their face? Probably not..

At Fuzion we produced an infographic called “Safebook” which can be downloaded free from our website to encourage young people to use the online platforms responsibly and to help them cope with any negative scenario. In the worst cases we recommend that the culprit should be unfriended, blocked and reported.

Safebook Poster - Cyberbullying

This is quite good advice and when it comes to reporting we mean: tell your friends and parents and ultimately report them to the social media platform and the authorities where necessary.

I have come to realise that the reporting to the social media platforms is quite useless and I have never really heard it yielding results. While they proclaim they are very concerned in reality I feel they are doing nothing to really make a difference.

For over a year our Safebook poster has been downloaded by teachers, resource centres and parents all over the world – we have even been asked to translate into a number of different languages, which shows you that the problem is global.

Where are Facebook in all of this? Have they seen our poster? Do they not see the huge need to provide a resource to schools and our young people?

At this session, which had been organised by a proactive parents committee for a school in West Cork I informed them that Facebook operated different privacy settings for teenagers, which gave them a level of protection against predators. This seemed to provide some relief to the concerned parents.

Facebook change the privacy settings for teenagers

Literally the next day I read the headlines that Facebook had now relaxed the settings for teenagers, providing them with more or less the same functionality and openness that other adult users enjoyed!

In their statement they outlined their logic for this change:

Teens are among the savviest people using social media, and whether it comes to civic engagement, activism, or their thoughts on a new movie, they want to be heard,Facebook said on its site. “While only a small fraction of teens using Facebook might choose to post publicly, this update now gives them the choice to share more broadly, just like on other social-media services.

In my view the truth is that Facebook is losing ground to it’s big social media rival Twitter, which does not have special settings for different age groups and it wants to protect this first and foremost. They are throwing their privacy protection mechanisms for young users out the window because of this.

While this thinking is very concerning it got even worse ..

Now we have learnt that Facebook thought it was quite OK to permit a brutal sadistic video of a woman being beheaded on their platform.

Debbie Frost - FacebookThe logic of this was explained by the Director of Communications and Public Affairs Facebook:

People turn to Facebook to share their experiences and to raise awareness about issues important to them,” said spokeswoman Debbie Frost in a statement. “If it is being shared for sadistic pleasure or to celebrate violence, Facebook removes it.

How does Facebook know if I am sharing the post because I am horrified by it or because it gives me a thrill?

Facebook staffThey were allowing a brutal video that any TV station in the world would instinctively know should not be viewed on air, to be shared by all their users on Facebook based on freedom of expression and  the social good!

While Facebook is a huge, profitable business and is winning commercially it that has clearly lost it’s way when it comes to moderating its platform, which must be put down to some very questionable leadership.

When Mark Zuckerberg says the Facebook mission is to “Make the world more Open and Connected” is this what he meant?

Have they lost all objectivity and social decency by employing too many young guns who just do not have the life experience and moral compass required to deal with policy and such huge issues?

The scary thing for me is that up until this point they have probably been the more proactive social media platform when it comes to privacy and safety!

My conclusion when I talk to parents and teachers about social media is that the onus is on us to teach good behaviour and we need to be proactive and learn the tools for ourselves so that we can advise from an informed place.

I call it “Teach don’t Preach“.

It now really looks like it is up to us because the safety walls have just been lowered and I don’t trust the owners to build them again.

I think of the faces of those concerned parents – maybe they are right to be concerned?

Greg Canty is a partner of Fuzion

Fuzion offer social media consultancy and training in Ireland from our offices in Cork and Dublin

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5 Responses to “The social cost of questionable leadership at Facebook”

  1. Fergal Bell Says:

    It’s a very timely article, Greg. In Florida they have a case being investigated at the moment where a teenager went through a terrible bullying campaign both online and offline, only ending when she killed herself. In that instance the police are trying to prosecute the alleged perpetrators to the full extent of their powers under a charge of aggravated stalking.

    It’s a new world for teenagers (and the rest of us) to manage.

    Do you have the picture on a link I can share on Facebook, by the way? I’d be delighted to share it.

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