Does Facebook Care?

A screenshot from my Facebook news feed this morning.

Facebook does a lot of things. But does it care? Individual people at Facebook might care about certain things, though it’s unlikely (except for one or two employees I know personally, outside of Facebook.com) that they care about me. As a public stock corporation, Facebook’s legal and business structure ensures that its directors must care principally about its stock value. In order to obtain that, it has sub-incentives to give me the impression that it cares about me. I feel sorry for the people caught in that trap. Most of us, in one way or another, by our use of it, are.

Consider privacy. Users have complained because things happen that feel out of their control; Facebook, for instance, changes its privacy policy without telling them, and suddenly their employers can look up their sick-day vacation photos. (Does Facebook care that they don’t get the vacation days they need, that they gamble sick days to try to keep from getting sick?) So the company inserts into its user interface all sorts of interesting features whose purpose it describes as “privacy.” And, indeed, if you can figure out which switches to flick, your employer might not be able to see so easily the evidence of your discontent. But is that privacy? Is that caring? The posts, meanwhile, are not private to Facebook itself, which has license to use them for business purposes, from now until eternity, as it sees fit—at least to the degree that it can get away with doing so while maintaining the acquiescence of its users and continuing to pursue a monopoly over social life.

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Does that count as caring? These feeble sub-incentives? Is it caring when you care as means toward the end of shareholder profits?

Maybe all our caring is like that. Don’t we love our parents, at least in part, because we deem them necessary for our own flourishing? Perhaps caring is an emergent property. A kind of grace. For all the baser motivations that rule us, love and caring have a way of sneaking in, even of briefly taking over. Surely two people can experience true kindness across a Walmart checkout line, regardless of the company’s formal, extractive design. Surely wonderful things come to us (because of the people who share them) through our Facebook feeds. But do such machinations of grace excuse Walmart, or Facebook, from a better design?

Augustine preached about the order of love, of loves. Which love do we hold first? Which guides the others? Do we love God so as to get something for ourselves in the world that we love more? Or do we love God first, and love ourselves and the world the way God’s love sees them? For instance, in On Christian Doctrine:

living a just and holy life requires one to be capable of an objective and impartial evaluation of things: to love things, that is to say, in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally.

Yes, grace is possible in our disorderliness. But does the possibility of grace absolve us from seeking a "just and holy" life? A just and holy company, at the very least, should order its corporate structure according to the loves it claims to hold.

If Facebook cares about us, it should be owned and governed by a structure that is principally, not secondarily, accountable to us. Cooperative, democratic corporate structures can do this, though they're not always so profitable for investors. Our enterprises have a choice, and so do we. Will we accept second-place to strangers’ profits in the hearts of those who claim to care about us?

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