Wasn't it just two months ago that Mark Zuckerberg was testifying before Congress about Facebook's relationship with political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica? And wasn't it just Sunday, during Game 2 of the NBA Finals, when we watched a tear-jerker of a commercial telling us how Facebook was going to get back to what made it great, which according to the commercial means focusing on users and those moments in life that people find post-worthy?
Yes, it was.
If, as its commercial promises, Facebook is returning to its glory days, when exactly did those glory days of a relentless focus on user health and well-being actually occur? Was it those blessed years before the 2016 election?
According to reporting by The New York Times, Facebook has had user data-sharing partnerships with Chinese electronics firms that date back to 2007. One of those firms is Huawei, a Chinese mobile-phone manufacturer with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party. The report by the Times also details a deep suspicion of Huawei within the United States national security community.
Of course, it isn't just Chinese companies--though a Chinese company thought to be a potential national security threat should raise red flags. According to the Times, Facebook also had similar data- sharing agreements with at least 60 other device makers. Those agreements gave device makers access to not just the Facebook data of the device owner, but also the data of his or her Facebook friends.
Facebook is a business, not a public service. It has to make money somehow, and its most valuable asset is the extraordinary amount of data users willingly provide.
However, Facebook can't have it both ways. It can't fall back on the "we are a business" argument every time it faces a scandal resulting from breaking the trust of its users, only to try and rebuild that trust with the type of expensive public relations campaign on display during Game 2.
When the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, it wasn't long before there was a backlash to the backlash that basically sounded like this: "How could you be so naïve? Facebook is a business, and you're the sucker for believing anything different,"--despite the fact that Mark Zuckerberg has always told us Facebook is first and foremost about connecting people and making the world a better place.
That backlash to the backlash is rooted in a deeply corrosive cynicism, not unlike the empathy-free response disappointed voters get when a politician breaks his or her promises. When political promises are broken, there is a type of punditry that says, "Well, what did you expect? He/she is a politician. You were the sucker for ever believing him/her in the first place."
If we follow this line of thinking, it's better to live in a cynical world that expects very little from its leaders, institutions, and corporations. That world may have the benefit of less disappointment, but it comes at the cost of not holding leaders, institutions, and corporations accountable--because after all, what did you expect them to do?
They are just trying to grab hold of the last dollar, like the rest of us.
Personally, I don't want to live in that world.
I would rather live in a world where we believe what our leaders and institutions say, and then hold them accountable when they fail to live up to standards they've helped set, in part with PR campaigns that tell us they care about people over profit.
In other words, we should take Facebook at its word, and believe what it told us during that tear-jerker of a commercial that aired during Game 2.
And then throw the book at the company when it breaks its promises.