Usually this blog examines images in advertising and the slogans that accompany such images. In this particular post, the slogan itself takes center stage in the form of Facebook’s mission statement:
To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.
For those who have come across this declaration, how many have laughed out loud, sneered, or even gagged? Can a company that caters to egoism really claim to be altruistic? And yet, how many people stop to ask this question? How many simply absorb the message and think nothing of it?
“The amoral corporation as humanitarian” is a card that has been played so often, it no longer registers as a play. Or perhaps the public has simply become accustomed to pretense as part of the consumer landscape. Consider the mission statement as a public relations tool, twisting and softening the true aim of any big business: to make as much money as possible. For social media companies, that means analyzing user behavior and delivering personalized ads. Naturally, the more time a user spends on the platform, the better. Thus an industry committed to digitally-designed addiction navigates and simultaneously influences public opinion.
Facebook’s current mission statement is, however, an improvement on their original statement that stood painfully in place for a decade:
To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.
Here the stench of a shallow think tank is more evident. Nonetheless, note that both statements contain the word give and the word power.
Give | This word reflects the free service that Facebook provides, while remaining silent on the monetization that occurs when users agree to the terms and conditions: essentially, to receive targeted advertising. “To give” appears charitable when in fact the company is reaping massive profits from the exchange. Which begs the question: Who is giving who the power?
Power | As in power to the people, expressed as the ability to share, build community, et cetera. But people already had that power. Before social media they used email and attachments, and before that they spoke on the phone or wrote letters and sent pictures. But mostly they just congregated and shared via untraceable word of mouth.
Also note that Facebook’s current mission statement jettisons the words share, open, and connected—and rightly so.
Share | This word has become polluted as a euphemism for data mining, and in many cases, for an overindulgence of the user’s ego (see Garbage Language: The Landfill of Self-Importance). Furthermore, coming from a company notorious for acquiring potential competitors, share feels more like market share.
Connected | Another polluted word, now simply ironic in light of the information-bubble phenomenon which in fact promotes isolation. In this regard, individuals are not interacting as much as acting. Real connection cannot be achieved through an interface designed to predict behavior. Real connection—real life—is unpredictable and therefore dynamic. A real friend cannot be configured.
Even without delving into the problematic nature of the words Facebook chose to retire, the original mission statement was dated and in need of revision. But is the current statement, which includes the words community and closer, any more genuine? Given Facebook’s questionable role in the 2016 presidential election, combined with rumors that the company conducted social engineering experiments without users’ consent, those words have the ring of damage control and thus indicate the very things that have been sacrificed on the road to technological connectivity.
In today’s cultural climate, nostalgia for pre-internet socializing has a case. Yes there were still loudmouths and idiots akin to today’s trolls. Yes there were also rumors and stories that circulated in viral fashion. It wasn’t perfect, but it was between you and the experience with no corporate intermediaries to structure, influence, and record the dialogue. It was pure, still prone to human insecurity and error, but naturally intimate owing to the privacy of direct contact through unprocessed means. What passed between you and someone else passed. You were in the moment, and if you cared to revisit it, you might later reflect on what had happened—not gauge its value in the form of likes. Of course face-to-face conversations still abound, but to an increasingly lesser degree as people become more and more tethered to their phones. And rarely does in-person socializing occur these days without some notification interrupting the flow.
Might social media as a whole represent a corporate expression of collective insanity? Or is this viewpoint simply a dark exaggeration, or a half-truth at best? Regardless, singling out the phenomenon of social media may already be anachronistic, so ingrained is it across the internet which itself contains all previous communication technologies. As the stream of information becomes more seamless, what was once novel becomes normalized. “What’s the big deal?” the average user asks. Meanwhile, multinationals jockey for position in the quest to obtain power and determine reality.