“… to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”Facebook mission statement
The time companies spend crafting mission statements is staggeringly stupid when you transform the hours into the dollars being paid to the people around the table (or, as of late, in the Zoom). I have been in such meetings, where discussions over the addition or subtraction of a single word …
… led ordinarily sane people to argue with such vehemence and a lack of civility that a previously solid business relationship was destroyed.
Petty? You betcha. But does it happen? Yup.
Which isn’t to say a mission statement is completely useless. The existence of mission statements, well, let’s see… they:
- Keep frame shops and nail makers in business, because once you’ve got a mission statement, you’ve got to hang that puppy up in the boardroom.
- Allow folks to see the depths a company’s leaders will go to not only deceive themselves but also the users of their product.
As of the fourth quarter of 2020, Facebook had 258 million active users in the United States and Canada alone. The combined population of those two countries is roughly 360 million, meaning nearly three-quarters of the people of God’s Chosen Continent are, to some degree, living under a completely false mission statement.
What are you to The Real Facebook?
In 2020, Facebook brought in $86 billion-with-a-B in revenue and, depending on the day, is now valued at roughly $720 billion-with-a-B. Exactly zero dollars of either of those figures comes from “making the world more connected” in the manner the company’s marketing and public relations folks idealistically portray.
Let’s dispel the notion that you are a customer of Facebook. You’re not. You have never paid Facebook a dime for the ability to share pictures of the kids with your parents or to carry on that online affair with your long-ago high school classmate. When you share that meme from 2011 or a post that starts with “I don’t usually get into politics on here, but…” you are contributing nothing to what I like to call “The Real Facebook.”
“The Real Facebook” is completely different from “Facebook.” The Real Facebook has a completely different mission statement that is never shared publicly and won’t keep the frame and nail industries afloat. We can all get in a boardroom or on a Zoom and argue over each word, but The Real Facebook’s mission statement is something like, “Get those who participate in an increasingly data-obsessed advertising culture to pay as much money as possible for the information we collect from our test subjects who fall for that other mission statement… ya know, the one we actually talk about publicly.”
Pause for a second: Name a company or industry that considers you a customer when you give them no money or service in return? You pay your dentist. You pay Wal-Mart. You pay Amazon. You pay your plumber, your babysitter, your doctor, your pizza place. You pay for your mattress, your shirt, your car, your internet service and that lotion that makes your legs so silky smooth. By definition, this makes you a customer of the purveyors of all those things.
You. Purchase. Nothing. From. Facebook.
No sane company leader would ever say “OK” to a mission statement that doesn’t, in some way, reference the very people who keep it in business. Only incredibly stupid — or incredibly disingenuous — business leaders approve a mission statement that doesn’t even mention its real customer.
Amazon is another internet-based behemoth, and there are things to be said about the ills of this company — namely, the way it treats its labor force and its impact on local communities and businesses. Yet its mission statement is honest and uber-focused on those who pay the bills.
“Our mission is to continually raise the bar of the customer experience by using the internet and technology to help consumers find, discover and buy anything, and empower businesses and content creators to maximize their success. We aim to be Earth’s most customer-centric company.”Amazon mission statement
Notice the difference? Amazon’s mission statement smacks you in the face with the importance of the customer. It clearly identifies who the customer is and emphasizes that individual’s importance in the structure of the company. If you buy anything, Amazon wants you to buy it from them and it’s going to do everything it can to make that experience easy and amazing.
To The Real Facebook, you are not a customer. You are a data point to sell to its true customers. You, in fact, are the product.
You are what’s for sale.
Feels icky, right? It should.
Facebook is failing at its mission
So we’ve established three important things:
- Facebook is different from The Real Facebook.
- What Facebook puts forward as its reason for existing is a lie.
- You are what is being sold to make money for Facebook.
So what? I mean, who cares about these inner workings of a company if the thing it is providing — a means to connect with friends and family along with groups that allow you to gather virtually with other goldendoodle owners or Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts or lovers of bacon — makes people’s lives better?
Well, Facebook isn’t making people’s lives better. Data show that the rise of social media is, in fact, putting people, especially teens and young adults, at greatly increased risk for really bad things such as depression and suicide precisely because these supposed connections are not neurologically recognized as real. Translation: Our own brains are telling us that Facebook is full of it.
I’m not going to spend a ton of time on this issue, because others have delved into the topic ad nauseam. I have plucked a few of the most alarming statistics out there simply to hammer home the point that Facebook specifically and social media in general is unhealthy and is especially bad for younger people.
- Teenage and young users who spend the most time on Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook) and other platforms have a substantially higher rate of reported depression than those who spent the least time. We’re talking 66 percent vs. 13 percent.
- A national sample of young adults (those aged 19 to 32) showed a strong correlation between the time spent on social media and perceived social isolation. Those in the quartile who spent the most time were twice as likely to express feeling less connected to others as those in the quartile who spent the least.
Returning to Facebook’s mission statement, even if there were no difference between Facebook and The Real Facebook, the company is failing miserably at doing what it is saying it is meant to do: connecting people. And yet, it is one of the most highly valued companies in the history of the world. Try to rationalize that… how a company can so startlingly fail at accomplishing its mission yet still rake in billions and billions of dollars in profit.
Facebook is always watching
“But,” you say, “I, personally, do not feel more depressed or socially isolated than I did before Facebook and social media and smartphones became a thing.”
Excellent! Some people always fall outside what statistically can be called the norm for any ill, and if it doesn’t bother you that the ill is the norm, well, this is where our paths diverge. The rise of this attitude of focus on the individual over communal good is a topic for another day.
But sure, let’s focus on the individual who happily falls outside the norm, because The Real Facebook loves you. And here’s the thing: It is always watching you.
After all, remember: You are the product. And while Facebook sucks at its mission of actually connecting people, The Real Facebook is amazing at improving its product.
From time to time, you’ll see a post in your newsfeed from one of your “connections” that goes something like, “Facebook is invading your privacy in some nefarious manner, but if you copy and post this you are telling Facebook it can’t share your data blah blah blah.” And people actually do it and believe it! The funny thing is, The Real Facebook then takes the fact that you posted it and adds that knowledge to its file on you so entities that thrive on marketing to the most gullible can reach you more easily!
The reality is this: No matter what you do in the privacy settings of any social network, it is still always watching. Turn off the location setting on photos? Great. Cool. The Real Facebook is still uber-creepy. It is, for example, looking at every single photo you take in minute detail to develop you as a product. What’s your expression? What color are you wearing? What’s the logo on your hat? What’s the weather like? Who is with you who doesn’t have their privacy settings adjusted like you? What business is that in the background? Who is nearby? What is nearby? What direction have you traveled since you last gave up this data about yourself? Are you happier? Sadder? Angrier? Wearing nicer clothes? Is there a new trend for how late you’re staying out? What does that trend say about you?
And that’s just one photo!
I recently wrote about The Dark Side of Marketing. The scary thing about what I talked about there compared to what I’m talking about here is that there, the nasty stuff was all being done by human beings who are limited by their individual brain power and a reasonable workday and work week. Here, we’re talking about a hive mind of artificial intelligence that has been set loose, is working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and has no moral compass.
“But,” you say, “There are still human beings who run the artificial intelligence.”
Wellllll, that’s kinda true. You can make the argument that, sure, people nominally run The Real Facebook and other social networks. The reality, though, is that, in pursuit of building a more marketable product, these people have checked morality at the door and bow down to the artificial intelligence that makes them enough money so that they don’t have to care when they get caught doing really nasty stuff.
On July 24, 2019, the Federal Trade Commission released this “We are the biggest bully in the school yard” press release touting a record $5 billion fine against Facebook for knowingly violating its product’s (not it’s customer’s, remember) privacy.
The FTC even used this fancy chart to show exactly how big the Facebook fine was compared to previous fines against other privacy-violators, because sheep love pretty pictures:
Oooohhh, how pretty!
The intention of this press release was to say that Facebook was being put in its place and that the U.S. government was in charge.
So what happened next?
Facebook simply paid the fine, and its stock price, valuation and user base all went up.
Yeah, you really showed them, FTC.
Here’s the reality: The Real Facebook is more powerful than the federal government, at least right now. So when the government tries to hold it accountable, you get its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, appearing contrite on Capitol Hill …
… followed by “Who’s got the biggest?” press releases — and then The Real Facebook goes back to doing what it does: figuring out how to sell its product (you) even better while perhaps playing by whatever the new rules are. Or not.
The Real Facebook can do this because it’s just… so… big. When a company is worth more than the Gross Domestic Products of many First World nations and when it can simply write a check for egregious privacy violations that don’t change the behavior of either it or enough of those whose privacy was violated to matter, there’s a problem.
A big problem.
A Journey to the Extremes
“…to give everyone a voice and show them the world.”YouTube mission statement
To be fair, Facebook isn’t alone in lying about its mission. Google-owned YouTube is just as delusional or deceitful. YouTube states that its mission is to show you the world. That’s simply not true. YouTube exists to show you more of your world, which has very little to do with the actual world.
I absolutely love Heath Ledger’s Joker character from The Dark Knight.
YouTube feeds my rather unhealthy obsession quite well. First, I watched one video about the Joker. YouTube’s artificial intelligence rightly said, “Hey! This guy likes the Joker! Let’s recommend another Joker video as soon as this one is over.” So I watched that Joker video. We know where this is headed. Two months later, I’m unshowered, unshaved, divorced and wearing Joker makeup while babbling incoherently on a street corner.
Let’s start over. What if, instead of Joker videos, I was wondering if what my crazy co-worker said about COVID being caused by 5G towers was true? YouTube’s artificial intelligence is going to feed the previously rational me video after video that gets more “out there” as time goes on. And once it knows that I like this kind of thing about COVID, it’s going to start feeding me other conspiracy theories, until I am trying to break up a government-run pedophile ring run in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant that doesn’t even have a basement.
YouTube isn’t showing me the world. It’s creating my world.
And why is it doing this to its customers? Ah-ha! Caught you! You forgot: You. Are. Not. The. Customer. YouTube doesn’t really care about what you watch as long as you keep watching so it can make money off its real customers, the advertisers who pay a lot of money to target you based on the information you feed them. YouTube benefits from showing you videos that keep you watching so it can wrap a bow around its product for its customers. Sound just a little bit like The Real Facebook?
What’s more likely to keep you watching?
A) Videos that drag you further down the rabbit hole of what your viewing history shows you already believe;
B) Videos that provide views counter to your perceived reality, even if the powers that be at YouTube know your preferred videos are factually incorrect?
If you said B, thanks for playing. We have some great parting gifts for you.
This speaks to the insanely stupid part of YouTube’s mission statement: “to give everyone a voice.” This presupposes that everyone’s voice deserves to be heard on a mass scale. That is a lie.
Now, let’s forget the dolts who have learned how to make millions of dollars by recording themselves playing a video game and garner audiences in the millions — including, sadly, my own son. It’s up to me to put a limit on my kid’s video-watching time to deal with this scourge.
What I’m talking about is this misguided believe that what you have to say is worthy of the widespread audience that Facebook provides. This part of YouTube’s mission statement appeals to First Amendment lovers who think the First Amendment gives anyone the right to say anything at any time, anywhere. Besides being false and a misreading of the First Amendment, it is also dangerous.
I once had a guy call me when I was a newspaper editor back in 1997 who, at first, seemed incredibly sane and logical. And then, about 15 minutes into our conversation about local politics, he started talking about a global cabal run by the CEOs of Home Depot, Lowe’s, Sears and other companies that was the true One World Government. I am not making fun of this guy. He was sick. I would learn later as his calls and visits to the office became regular that he was schizophrenic and off his medication. In fact, he would become a perceived danger to those in our office until he finally stepped over the line and was arrested.
Under YouTube’s mission statement — and based on how it has acted in practice — this man’s voice has as much right to mass distribution as mine. Had my newspaper operated under this philosophy, I would have been obligated to check my rational judgment at the door and include him as a source in my articles about local politics.
Really? Does anyone agree with that?
YouTube does. The more you watch, the more YouTube will move you to the fringes and solidify your perception of the world while purposefully not showing you anything that might upset your grasp of reality. Unlike newspapers of old in which varying rational viewpoints were presented in the same article, you are fed that which you already believe at the exclusion of alternative takes. The result is that those alternative viewpoints so rarely enter your world that, should happen to hear them, they are seen as so fringe as to be unbelievable, close to the ramblings of a schizophrenic in need of treatment, when presented in your YouTube-crafted worldview.
And here’s the thing: The same thing is happening to those who believe the opposite of your starting point. YouTube is keeping them watching too by feeding them videos that are the “that’s right!” of what they believe. The result is an increasingly polarized and, indeed, radicalized world in which each side sees the other as nuts, a view that is not entirely inaccurate.
“But wait,” you say. “YouTube has changed! It’s not like that anymore.”
Yes, it’s true. YouTube had a supposed Great Awakening during the Arab Spring, when actual human beings at the company showed a modicum of conscience and interfered with the artificial intelligence running its precious algorithms to place non-radical videos on a viewer’s recommended list if they were geo-located near the action, along with text that essentially said, “Hey! You! Potentially crazy person! Watch this. Not that.“
Following the realization that a mega-mass-New-Media company has a tiny bit of responsibility to promote truth over radicalism, YouTube made further human interventions into its artificial intelligence. And they were roundly applauded for this! As if providing some semblance of balance is so out of the norm that it deserves praise instead of a shrug for doing what should be expected.
Which, of course, begs the question: If your means of making bazillions of dollars selling people to advertisers needs human intervention to reduce extremism, is that means safe? Is it responsible to rely on that means? When a company is outright lying to the world with its own mission statement, can we trust the answers it might give to these questions?
So what to do?
You do know that you don’t have to be a part of all this, right? Of course, our society has evolved such that, to not be a part of it, you will be the one who is seen as absolutely insane. Why? Because you will not only have to delete all your social media accounts (not just deactivate them), but you will have to not own a smartphone. Absent that, you are in some way participating in all of this icky stuff.
No one reading this is going to take this step, and I include myself in that group. I could. I should. I can say “I can’t,” because my job as a marketing coordinator means I have to manage my company’s social media channels (how’s that for irony?). But I could find another job that doesn’t involve social media management. And trust me, there’s a large part of me that wants to chuck every last piece of technology that tracks me out the window and head off for parts unknown to lead a decidedly different life.
But I don’t. And I won’t. I love my job. I love what being connected allows me to do. I love that, if I wanted to, I could go on Amazon right now and order a coffin or Madagascar hissing cockroaches and that either would arrive on my doorstep in as few as two days.
Doing what needs to be done? Well, I mean, come on! It’s too hard!
Of course, if my 11-year-old said that when it comes to his school work or basketball practice, I would give him a pep talk about how doing the hard thing is often what it means to do the right thing.
Do as I say, not as I do, right?