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The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: “Integrity” of Facebook

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April 05, 2018 10:20 EDT

Facebook’s integrity is less about wholeness than holes.

The crisis currently rocking Facebook has led to its losing “over $100 billion in market cap since the Cambridge Analytica revelations.” Its customers are dealing with emotions ranging from disappointment to disgust. Many of them are going through withdrawal symptoms as they abandon their addiction. As The Verge reports, sensing that an age of unfettered prosperity has ended, Facebook’s staff may be feeling even more extreme emotions.

In their effort to understand and defend their territory, the essential cultural value most commonly cited is integrity. One member of staff had a suggestion: “Although we all subconsciously look for signal on integrity in interviews, should we consider whether this needs to be formalized in the interview process?” Another wrote: “This is so disappointing, wonder if there is a way to hire for integrity. We are probably focusing on the intelligence part and getting smart people here who lack a moral compass and loyalty.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:


The blind commitment to hiding the sins of one’s organization, taken to be one of the supreme virtues in a closed moral system

Contextual note

A generous reading of these remarks would compare this with a military mentality, where obedience trumps all other virtues because there can be no doubting of the national cause. A less generous reading would compare this to omertà, the Cosa Nostra’s code of honor “that places importance on silence, non-cooperation with authorities, and non-interference in the illegal actions of others.”

We discover that Facebook staff have a very direct sense of their culture, which doesn’t necessarily correlate with the firm’s mission statement (“give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”). “How fucking terrible that some irresponsible jerk decided he or she had some god complex that jeopardizes our inner culture and something that makes Facebook great?” The “god complex” referred to is most likely a reference to other moral codes that may be at odds with their “inner culture.” Those codes obviously don’t matter.

Then we find speculation as to whether the leakers might be spies. “Imagine that some percentage of leakers are spies for governments. A call to morals or problems of performance would be irrelevant in this case…” When those who work for a commercial company that gathers people’s data to exploit it under a veil of secrecy, fantasize about spies who have infiltrated their network or moles who must be smoked out, we sense that this is closer to the duplicitous worlds described by John Le Carré than it is to the logic of a business in an open, competitive marketplace. The author mentions a “call to morals,” which implies belief in the existence of an implicit ethical system that presumably belongs to Facebook alone, one which elevates loyalty to the highest order of virtue.

Historical note

Tech companies have always innovated in the conscious elaboration of a culture, often with explicit behavioral rules. For decades, IBM imposed the equivalent of a uniform with their well-enforced dress code, one of the keys to becoming not just an employee of IBM but an IBMer, with an implicit sense of identity intended to supersede other factors, such as family, nation and religion. Hewlett Packard expected its staff to follow the “HP Way,” implicitly a “way of life” inside the company. Its set of values included “a commitment to community responsibility, and a view that the company exists to make technical contributions for the advancement and welfare of humanity.”

For HP, “community responsibility” clearly meant a duty toward the community outside the firm. This was enshrined in its notion of “citizenship” defined as “making contributions to the community and to the institutions in our society which generate the environment in which we operate.”

In contrast, the reactions from inside Facebook tell us that the only “moral” framework that counts is the well-being of Facebook itself. By “giving people power” (mission statement), Facebook relinquishes other responsibilities. This is particularly true when the people use that power for immoral purposes. The community that “Facebookers” (or Facebookies?) are serving and owe loyalty to is the one inside the Facebook campus. The “moral compass” cited earlier seems to be pointed permanently at the lodestar in Menlo Park. They have done their job of bringing the world together by deviating all their customers’ communication and data through their servers. What more should anyone expect?

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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