business news in context, analysis with attitude

There is a terrific piece in the New York Times about some introspection taking place at Facebook regarding the role it may have played in the 2016 elections ... and it is a subject that could have implications for every business and business leader.

"Facebook has been in the eye of a post-election storm for the last few days, embroiled in accusations that it helped spread misinformation and fake news stories that influenced how the American electorate voted," the Times writes. "The online conversation among Facebook’s executives on Tuesday, which was one of several private message threads that began among the company’s top ranks, showed that the social network was internally questioning what its responsibilities might be."

The story goes on: "Some employees are worried about the spread of racist and so-called alt-right memes across the network, according to interviews with 10 current and former Facebook employees. Others are asking whether they contributed to a 'filter bubble' among users who largely interact with people who share the same beliefs.

"Even more are reassessing Facebook’s role as a media company and wondering how to stop the distribution of false information. Some employees have been galvanized to send suggestions to product managers on how to improve Facebook’s powerful news feed: the streams of status updates, articles, photos and videos that users typically spend the most time interacting with."

To be clear, not all the criticisms were aimed at one side of the political equation. The Times notes that "in May, the company grappled with accusations that politically biased employees were censoring some conservative stories and websites in Facebook’s Trending Topics section, a part of the site that shows the most talked-about stories and issues on Facebook. Facebook later laid off the Trending Topics team."

The story is worth reading here, and here's why.

While not everybody at Facebook (like founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example) publicly accepts the premise that Facebook has that kind of outsized influence in either political direction, I think that it actually is hard to argue that social media in general has enormous influence in the way people think and act. Some will think this is a good thing, and some, not so much; I suspect that most people's positions will depend on whether they won the argument or not.

But I think this is important for business leaders to read and absorb, because as much as these social media platforms can influence voter opinion, they also can have a profound impact on consumer behavior.

To be clear, some of what appears on the internet is uplifting and designed to appeal to the better angels of our nature. But much is designed to appeal to the basest of instincts, beliefs and personal conduct.

To pretend otherwise is to be foolish.
KC's View: