Friends with (Receding) Benefits

December 19, 2017

 

When social networking became popular, I remember the impact it had on a few friends who discovered things about people they thought they know. Discovering information online was a new phenomenon that had a learning curve all its own. It was one thing to know that your new crush had been involved with other people prior to meeting you; it was another feeling entirely to see pictures of that old flame online. As a student of communication management I believe it is up to individuals to vet the information they consume, but numerous controversies over fake news have shown that millions of people are unlikely to hold themselves to that same standard. 

 

One reason why the pitchforks aren't out for Zuck & Co. could be the stock price. Facebook is part of the FAANG group of blue chip stocks (along with Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google), & Netflix) that can do no wrong in the eyes of the investing public.  These stocks carry such outsize influence that seemingly damaging news refuses to budge their one-way trajectories. Like Google's mantra" do no harm,"   Facebook's consumer-friendly m.o. of connecting people and creating a more open world doesn't seem as relate-able when they are no longer the as the scrappy upstart, especially when investors as well as the government are seem loath to punish them for their misdeeds.  The price of Facebook stock has not reflected any doubts about its popularity. For many months I was held shares and watched them appreciate from $118 to $170, at which point I sold. They stock trades close to $180 at press time with no apparent regard to Russian influence. It's all about the robust mobile ad business!

 

Recently joining the chorus of Facebook naysayers was Chamath Palihapitiya, a former executive who made waves this week claiming Facebook was ripping apart the fabric of society.  He too bemoaned the lack of accountability shown by Facebook's allowance of Russian propoagandists to place ads, as well as the lack of civil discourse especially with regard to sensitive political issues. A CNBC panel debated Palihapitiya's points an mentioned that surprising number of teenage survey respondents (and a few "olds" as well) who said looking at social media posts aggravated their anxieties and insecurities.

 

I generally approve of Zuckerberg's big picture ambitions and philanthropic efforts, such as his donating to Newark's public school system. Kudos to Facebook to capturing the network effect and winning the social media arms race. But any company that becomes a near monopoly will ultimately be lumped in with every other hulking monolith out there that only exist to extract people from their money, fairly or not. Is it possible for Facebook to take a break from itself? 

 

 

 

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