Facebook has a problem, but it isn't the one you think. Sure, a lot of people are concerned that Facebook has decided not to fact check prominent politicians like the president. The company is facing intense internal pressure as a result, with employees even staging a virtual walk. Still, that isn't the real problem.
The real problem is that when you build a platform that increasingly exists as the center of conversation, commerce, and community, you can't simply stand by and pretend you have no role to play in keeping those things honest, inclusive, and safe. Choosing to do nothing is a choice.
And, if you run a business that reaches customers on Facebook, that's becoming your problem.
The company's explanation for taking a pass on getting involved with moderating the president's messages is even more problematic. "I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn't be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online," said the company's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, in an interview with Dana Perino of Fox News.
That's actually the right position, by the way. No matter what you think of the company, or the president, or the current state of political rhetoric, none of us will come out ahead if tech companies start being the arbiters of truth.
Except, they already are.
The company already determines exactly what you'll see, and it's programmed to show you the content it believes is relevant to you, and with which you'll like engage. Facebook has a vested interest in content that attracts attention because attention creates engagement and engagement leads to further opportunities to target users with ads.
All of that has very real implications for your brand. If you're a small business that runs ads on the world's second-largest advertising platform, or you're building a community of loyal followers there, Facebook's problem is your problem. That makes the whole thing even more complicated.
Facebook is still the single largest platform for reaching your customers. At the same time, its stance on a variety of issues, including controversial content, has a direct relationship to the impression of your brand.
It's also worth mentioning that Facebook's position is actually another example of what appears to be the company's ultimate priority: Facebook. The main reason the company isn't interested in being an arbiter of truth is that it wants to stay in the good graces of an administration that has a often been criticized for playing fast and loose with that same truth.
That's a big deal for Facebook, which has a vested interest in keeping government regulators at bay. But it could be bad news for your business since you aren't Facebook's primary concern. Facebook is. That means that building your business on someone else's platform comes with risks, especially when that platform isn't aligned with your interests.
Facebook has staked out its position pretty clearly. It's not the referee; it wants to be the stadium. The referee gets only to call balls and strikes, but the stadium gets to charge tickets for admission and sell hot dogs in the concession stand. The stadium ultimately doesn't care who wins, only that people spend their money there.
Your job, as the steward of a brand, is to consider the price of associating with Facebook--or any platform, for that matter. After all, trust is your most valuable asset and every decision you make either builds that trust, or destroys it. Even when you're making those decisions in someone else's stadium.