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Facebook Is Ruthless about Growth

Facebook’s ruthlessness illustrates something deeper embedded in US culture: obesity as a positive value. The Daily Devil’s Dictionary explains.

No one doubts that Facebook single-handedly conquered the world of social media. When Hollywood decided to make a movie about Mark Zuckerberg’s picaresque success story, they didn’t call it “Facebook: The Story.” They called it The Social Network.

Analyzing the trove of confidential documents released by British parliamentarians, Business Insider reaches this conclusion: “If you take one thing away from wading through 250 pages of Facebook documents, it is this: Here is a company that is ruthless about growth.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Growth:

The obesity principle as it plays out in late phase capitalism. A company’s or a wealthy person’s illusory and unnatural belief in its need to expand outward once it has reached maturity, which in the natural world defines the limit of an organism’s upward growth

Contextual note

The kind of growth objective Facebook adopted can be encapsulated in two other words: appetite and compulsion. More than traditional medical studies focused on physiological processes, Facebook may prove to be an excellent means for understanding the psychological and metabolic factors behind obesity in ordinary humans. Clearly the company is driven by an insatiable appetite and the belief that bigger is not only better, but biggest is never big enough.

The psychological factors that lead to obesity include, in most cases, a paradoxical association of the obese subject’s indifference to the judgment of others — which may be seen as a missing or suppressed social instinct — coupled with an unconscious belief that size, possibly because it increases visibility, will provoke a certain form of admiration.

Both of these have meaning within contemporary US culture, where extreme individualism has led to indifference to (if not denial of) social norms regarding size, whether it’s the food on one’s plate, one’s bodily dimensions or the height of a building. Size in general has become associated with the positive values of assertiveness, prestige through visibility and accomplishment. Size signifies the capacity to dominate and control the resources of one’s environment.

In the world of economics and business competition, growth has only positive connotations, as the journalistic game of comparing GDP figures proves. If the fictional character, Gordon Gekko, in Oliver Stone’s movie, Wall Street, famously announced that “greed is good,” in the same corporate world, it would be no exaggeration to say “obesity is good.” Rather than endangering a company, sheer bulk is seen as a security, as in being “too big to fail.”

One quote from the Facebook documents gives a good idea of how the company’s strategy was focused on maximum accumulation — in this case, a form of data theft, the most convenient as well as valuable type of pilfering practiced today, since those who are robbed remain unaware of the transfer of value. On the debate over whether Facebook should attempt to vacuum up Android users’ call logs, one employee said: “This is a pretty high-risk thing to do from a PR perspective but it appears that the growth team will charge ahead and do it.”

Historical note

Business Insider remarked, “[R]arely do we see the inner workings of a company out to make money laid bare in such detail.” In Facebook’s favor, this implies not that the network is alone, it’s simply that the company has been found out, possibly because one of the risks of growth is that there is so much more that can be exposed at any given time.

In 2013, Psychology Today looked at the question of what drove people to obesity in the US: “The obesity epidemic raises a host of questions aimed directly at the psychology of eating, especially analyzing why Americans are eating more today than they used to.” This should have led to an exploration of the myriad cultural factors at play. But the journal disappointingly concludes by blandly endorsing the American Medical Association’s judgment (AMA) that obesity is a disease “requiring a range of medical interventions to advance treatment and prevention.”

This may tell us more about the AMA’s appetite for growth and its compulsion to control what we might call the “medical media” than it does an objectively scientific point of view. Obesity is so much a part of US culture that even the medical profession is affected by it.

Can this be the real problem in the US, and a problem that affects the world? Everyone recognizes that something abnormal is occurring, but instead of seeking to understand the complex network of causes — which in fact are discernable — it looks for the means of attenuating the symptoms, in this case “interventions,” which will most likely mean new drugs to bloat the activity and profit margins of pharmaceutical companies, as well as multiplying the expensive consultations with doctors. What about the “host of questions” they mention, only to dismiss the formulation of the question themselves by anticipating a host of answers?

Don’t the experts realize that “the psychology of eating” is not just about intake, but about cultural values and rituals? If they do, they don’t seem to care, because US culture long ago gave up on trying to understand culture, and most of all its own culture.

*[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.