Facebook, Inc. Common Stock (NASDAQ:FB) is a much-maligned company at present, and we would argue that this is justified. The company has been in breach of an unwritten set of rules – a kind of common law intuitive understanding of what must be right and wrong in the business of online data management and exploitation. But, it is also a private sector business operating not as a public utility for public good (despite its slogans and PR) but for profit and the maximization of shareholder value.
It is us, the general public, that may have been in breach of recognizing the snake we picked up when we signed up for our Facebook accounts, and now us who must self-assign blame when we take the bite. But, is this even a fair assessment?
Facebook, Inc. Common Stock (NASDAQ:FB) is the defendant in our trial today.
In the company’s defense, as it has stampeded through the lives of over 2 billion people, gathering data and launching targeted strikes in the fields of advertising and marketing, the company has also given rise to movements that should be appreciated.
One that quickly comes to mind is the product of the company’s forward-thinking chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. Ms. Sandberg has become nearly as visible in the Silicon Valley zeitgeist as Mark Zuckerberg. The company has supported her as the founder of Leanin.org, and elected her to its board of directors.
Ms. Sandberg has energized a movement, and Facebook’s support of her efforts has helped it thrive, creating new possibilities and a stream of powerful role models for women in entrepreneurship and technology, such as promising cognitive scientist and entrepreneur, Maureen Dunne.
This was sorely needed. If you have ever lived in Silicon Valley, then you know just how necessary this impact has been.
In addition, Facebook has created a standard for measuring how we need to deal with an emerging breed of new social issues. For example, we are likely to be much more circumspect as we incorporate new online tools into our personal lives, households, and careers.
However, this is a rather dubious acknowledgment as it implies Facebook’s failure to understand its massive responsibility from the first.
The Dark Side
At the end of the day, the corporate culture at Facebook is redeemable in many ways. But the company has an enormous hill to climb to redeem itself as a productive asset in the social and cultural landscape.
That said, as we noted at the outset, this is a private sector company with no competition that is charged only with the task of maximizing shareholder value.
It is up to the consumer of this product to understand the risks inherent in personalizing news feeds to the detriment of social and political perspective, alienating friends and relatives with an overly contrived staging of self-representation, and laying down a track record of online activity that geniuses armed with billions of dollars can easily exploit.
Most importantly, it is incumbent on all of us to remember that Facebook produces a product and sells it to a customer base. That product is not a social network platform filled with handy little features. That product is us, with our likes, dislikes, historical choices, social groups, hopes and dreams all laid bare for those who wish to purchase access to them and insert ideas into them like someone slipping psychoactive chemicals into our toothpaste.
But, finally, at the end of the day, this is an investment blog. And there are only two phrases in any of the above that matter on that level: “it has stampeded through the lives of over 2 billion people” and “this is a private sector company with no competition.”
It’s difficult to imagine an overly rough road ahead for FB shareholders now that we have shaken out the weak-handed momentum money.