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perspective

Facebook’s moral tests snowballing


Zuckerberg now has to review his ‘move fast’ mindset

The latest outcry against Facebook is anything but a surprise. Created with a virtually romantic mission to “connect” people who otherwise would have far fewer chances of interacting with one another, the social media giant has been courting one controversy after another. This time, though, complaints look quite serious, not least because they have been somewhat echoed by those in the same field as Mark Zuckerberg, and allegedly involved personal data of tens of millions of users.
The highly connected world has come to the brink of the privacy slippery slope. First, “national security” has been cited by state rulers to justify increasingly intrusive espionage programmes. Then there is personal information that is unknowingly or ignorantly given away on social media. 
It’s this category of unaware or uncaring givers of personal information that is at the centre of this latest Facebook uproar.
Some damage-control measures have been introduced by Facebook, but critics point to Zuckerberg’s tendency to “experiment” as a catalyst for similar controversies or scandals in the future. 
Even the man himself admitted that he loved to move fast and break new ground, and let a “noble” system keep correcting itself.
Moving too fast will endanger ethics, the critics say, arguing that the current scandal stemmed from a “too fast to oversee” situation. The controversy involved Cambridge Analytica, a political data company which reportedly collected users’ Facebook data while working for Donald Trump on the American presidential poll. 
Last week, Facebook admitted that as many as 87 million users, mostly living in the United States, could have had personal data obtained improperly by the information analysis firm and announced a series of updates to its platform aimed at bolstering users’ security and restoring shaky trust with the public, investors and regulators.
The leak is by no means the only ethical issue facing Facebook, which has become an outlet from which conventional news is disseminated. 
For ages, mainstream news media had to deal with the dilemmas of whether or not to disclose names, to publish photos or to open the doors to some private lives. Today, those dilemmas are besieging Zuckerberg, who is not even a journalist in the original sense, and they will only get tougher and tougher.
The number of Facebook users are far more than any news publication’s subscribers, so repercussions of any ethical slip-up can be very far-reaching. 
Leak of personal data is just one of the key ethical problems that have come about, including an intriguing question which has revolved around Facebook’s great power to dictate or swing opinions.
To be fair to Zuckerberg, privacy means a different thing nowadays to the new generation. The world is dominated by people who grow up keeping close tabs on friends and allowing friends to keep similar tabs on themselves. It’s a world where many don’t mind giving away certain personal data. Yet the slippery slope alarmists insist that if people like Zuckerberg are not careful, the day will come when all types of personal data out there are stolen and misused generally.
Zuckerberg, apparently, wants to learn as he goes, having a mindset that no unethical issue is too big to be corrected in time by the current system of which Facebook is a key part. His critics, however, cited the data hijacking scandal as a proof that some mistake from a rash act can be very costly, and that such mistakes could only be realised when it becomes too late.

Published : April 08, 2018

By : The Nation