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 previous issue                         issue #56,  posted 4 /13/ 2018                      archive of all  issues

Pointing Facebook in a "Dancing With Systems" Direction

If you are reading this, unless you're a friend or our paths once crossed, it's really something of a miracle! This blog lives on the website I maintain, it's one of hundreds of millions of websites out there, and I've done virtually nothing to increase traffic to it. Why? I am one of the world's worst marketers. For starters, I don't especially value the  "I Know What's Best for You" (project Worldview theme #2B). I don't know best and I don't want to persuade you to do anything you don't want to do. And I am uncomfortable with manipulation. So unlike Facebook's site, this website you've stumbled onto isn't designed to keep you here. If you've been to this blog page before you know this isn't the way I normally begin these posts. Here's how I typically begin...

in the news:  Yesterday  Mark Zuckerberg again testified before the USA Congress for many hours. NPR reported his apology, the conscious choices the company made to maximize its growth, and "the threat it now poses to democracy". The Facebook company he founded fourteen years ago from his Harvard dorm room has been in the news for weeks. Seems many of the 2.2 billion Facebook users apparently no longer trust this company with their personal data: 55% of Americans polled are uncomfortable with having it sold and used by other companies. And Facebook had an unwitting role in facilitating the spread of fake news,  and subverting the democratic process (most notably in the 2016 USA presidential election and the 2017 Brexit UK vote). This news coverage has not been positive. Thus "Epic Fail" with a falling Facebook "f" graced the cover of the March 24th issue of The Economist. "The social media giant faces a reputational crisis" proclaimed the associated op-ed. It continued, "Here is how it should respond." 

commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, founder and manager, project Worldview, www.projectworldview.org): I hope you clicked on those links I provided...but, "Are you still here?" Yes? Great! Without pretending to know what's best, I too will give Facebook some advice. Before I do that, consider some background.  

First, let's applaud Facebook for its fantastic success. Its founder is undoubtedly the subject of textbook case studies about marketing genius. In contrast, project Worldview's founder (me) has contemplated writing an article that might be titled "How Not to Do Marketing: Confessions of a Anti-Social Media Guy and Lone Wolf."  Perhaps you've noticed that, while our site consists of hundreds of pages and thousands of links, project Worldview does not have a Facebook page. From a maximizing website traffic / marketing perspective, this is a stupid, lone-wolfish, irrational omission. And there's an emotional, childish reason behind my initial dislike of Facebook. While Zuckerberg was at Harvard (and perhaps compiling lists of hot female students?!), my daughter was one of those students. So while her current (very low) Facebook account number is now something of a status symbol, my lack of such an account can be traced to a protective father's not liking the idea of Zuckerberg and friends potentially hitting on his daughter!  

Silliness aside, I haven't jumped on this social media bandwagon for many reasons. Most importantly I have privacy concerns, and want to avoid being manipulated by corporate "pushers" into buying things I don't need and becoming a "prisoner" of a consumption-based lifestyle—see "Consumerism" (theme #26A). And, not particularly valuing "The More is Better Mentality" (theme #26B),  I have no interest in growing an impressively large number of Facebook "friends". 

Of course Facebook, now firmly a part of America's "Corporate Capitalism" (theme #19B), is expected to be all about growth as in "Expansionism--Economic" (theme #22A). In contrast, progressives are pushing Facebook toward both more "corporate social responsibility" and more of an "Ethical Orientation" (theme #42).  

Certainly recent events have provided lots of evidence to use in questioning the company's ethics. Surprisingly, in both apologizing for and defending some of their behavior, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg faulted past company "idealism". To me this means that appropriate "Cynicism" (theme #36A) was lacking. With it, Facebook might have concluded, "There are plenty of greedy bad guys out there who will disregard privacy concerns / user agreements, etc. and do bad things, so we need to maintain enough vigilance / safeguards so this doesn't happen!"  Of course, being a big fan of promoting "Education for Democracy" (theme #31), I am horrified by those who use social media to spread fake news, peddle conspiracy theories, see "Conspiracism" theme #36B, etc. for political or monetary gain.  

Despite many reasons to be down on it, one can argue that Facebook provides a great, (seemingly) free "Service to Others" (theme # 21B). It demonstratively can be a great "Working for Change" (theme #35B) tool—whether that change is one we want is another question! Certainly this social media giant has the potential, if it idealistically chose to, to have a very big impact in doing something that project Worldview (see note #1 below) can only dream about. This could extend to work on a futuristic something I have long written aboutbeginning most significantly with the "AI / Global Brain Solution Pro and Con" in Coming of Age in the Global Village. Without providing any details here, let me end by quoting from the "Dancing With Systems" (theme #13) to hint at where I'd like to see Facebook go. "Modeling social systems should involve “dancing”: humbly gathering data and learning, being mentally flexible, valuing information, being alert to how the system creates its behavior, and to feedback. Do all thisnot to arrogantly control or predict the futurebut to design a system that creates a desired future that we envision. Design mechanisms / policies that change with the state of the system. Factor in values, respect what’s important, not just quantifiable. Expand time and thought horizons, and the boundary of caring. Go for the good of the whole." (see note #2)

These are the words of my mentor / one-time collaborator (see note #3), The Limits to Growth co-author and futurist Donella Meadows. If Dana was around to help point Facebook in the right direction, I like to think that she'd again use some of these words! We miss her and her Global Citizen column! 

1) from SPC: On the project Worldview homepage the following statement appears beneath its logo: "
Starting with the global education symbol, we've added a young person, eager to learn, whose head is centered on the world. We hope that in this person, and in all people, a healthy worldview developsone that brings happiness and promotes planetary well-being."  

2) from SPC: My The Worldview Theme Song Book includes (page 39) a cute "Dancing With Systems" song to be sung to the tune of the old Drifters' hit "Under the Boardwalk". 

3) from SPC: I'm not a lone wolf by choice. Unfortunately I often find myself trying to juggle too many things, and lacking time to involve others as much as I'd like to!

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