Mission Regrettable: Facebook, Big Business, and Nostalgia

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?

Girl alone in her big-city apartment looks at her phone.

“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.

Open |  To be open implies transparency, and although Facebook is actively addressing this issue, it will always be a slippery slope considering the company’s true mission.  Perhaps a perfect illustration of this paradox can be seen in the modern-day instrument of the privacy policy, a document so bloated as to keep the true state of affairs hidden.  But what can be expected from corporate culture where industry secrets are the norm?

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.

Girl alone in her big-city apartment looks at her phone.
High Tech Isolation

Author: Todd Garlington

Urban spectator, Inner space cadet

9 thoughts

  1. Todd, I certainly agree with your initial post and all the comments as they certainly ring true. What surprises me more than what large companies trying to make more money do, is what the public do. If the average person did not make themselves a slave to such rubbish, the companies would not have so much power or money. At the end of the day, you cannot blame the companies because they are only dong what all companies do, and that is make money. It is the role of the users to decide how much they they wish to blindly follow the latest trends and agree to provide all that valuable data at the same time. No one is forcing them. No users, no power! In many ways modern society is going to the dogs, and social media is only a small part of it. Thanks once again to everyone involved in this post. Regards, Phil at http://knowledge-data.net

  2. I seem to remember the term “mission statement” was co-opted by Stephen Covey and became corporate jargon. The company I used to work for even had its mission statement engraved onto a plaque then put on display in the waiting room. It didn’t really jibe with what our company actually did, but the slogan looked nice. The boss was a big fan of Covey’s “Seven Habits of…” series of books and business products.

  3. Very witty title! I’m not a denizen of Facebook, having taken several runs at it. Currently a hesitant Twitter scroller. I think one of the facets of these social media sites is the unlimited replicating nature of bad information. It’s the worst game of operator ever, because it encourages knee-jerk reactions to information, most of which has not been filtered through reliable sources. When we refer to pre-social media times, this kind of “psst-pass-it-on” ability was self-limiting through geography, limited technology, and lack of personal revelation (I highly doubt discussions were centered around whether people wash their feet in the shower). Personal revelations are now de rigueur and a goldmine for corporate marketers.

    1. Hi there. Thanks for dropping by. Indeed, reliable sources of information can no longer be taken for granted. Journalistic values have been overrun by political agendas for the most part, and news has been conflated with entertainment in all but a few outlets. Add to that the constant stream of information (or misinformation), and the result is global anxiety and destabilization despite a general increase in physical comfort. Have the promises of individualism and technological progress backfired? Perhaps the “kill your TV” sentiment of yesteryear will return in social-media form. Yet how would this message effectively spread if not through the channels it condemns?

  4. FarceBook’s evils are many. I despised them for years before I understood the extent of their data mining and how much access 3rd parties get to it. Just what it does to people, turning them into ego driven monsters, was enough for me. Of course, one can make the argument that Facebook, like sports, doesn’t shape character, it reveals it (true of fans certainly). Then, like Twitter, there are things like shadow bans designed to block posts from people that aren’t outright extremists, but Facebook still doesn’t like their view on one or more topics.

  5. Well said. I am so glad that I grew up in a time where there was no such thing as social media. Conversations and gatherings were subject to human memory only. There were cameras but they had film in them and took time to be developed. Interactions were spontaneous and organic. School work was done with pencil and paper or hacked out on a typewriter. I would never want to be a teen in today’s world. I loathe FakeBook.


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