Between the last few days of August and the first few in September in India, four major events pertaining to Facebook occurred:
- The multi-party Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology summoned Facebook for a deposition to convey the concern in regards to its perceived political partisanship. The panel’s original complaint was that Facebook was acting in favour of the ruling BJP.
- A strategically timed letter from IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad balanced the argument by claiming that Facebook was actually anti-BJP, since its employees abused the Prime Minister and colluded to discredit the government.
- Within a day of Facebook India MD Ajit Mohan’s first deposition, a particularly divisive social media communicator, Telangana MLA T. Raja Singh of the BJP, was barred from the platform.
- Facebook’s global leaders Neil Potts and Mark Zuckerberg issued statements assuring us that Facebook is a neutral carrier and that hate speech will not be tolerated on it. Additionally, Zuck said political advertisements will be barred during the last week before a national election.
The Standing Committee took great pains to keep the deposition in-camera and secret, and its attendees were gagged.
There is a moral to Facebook’s story of 2020: Be responsible to the people you empower. That kind of a responsibility is cultural, and like all culture, must be passed down through stories. Specifically, responsibility should have emerged as a special need in the age of social media—for our societies in general and for communicators in particular. Until this year, really, the concept has been elusive. While there was a hue and cry about Facebook’s involvement in US election 2016, and the US media was among the first to heed the wake-up call, there had been no such movement in India. Until now.
Whether it is a democracy or a corporation, being responsible for what we say and do comes with the job. Communication is increasingly becoming identified as a thread whose true activation is the key to building a culture of responsibility. In building any culture within organisations, creating awareness through internal stories and learning programmes is critical. But how can we tie storytelling to responsible behaviour, both organisationally and socially?
This author has argued for cultural training within organisations to achieve that end. Telling the organisation’s story is no longer a nice-to-have because your employees are telling stories anyway, on social media. By suggesting what some of those stories could be, organisations can set a cultural nudge in motion. Training employees culturally empowers employees as more responsible storytellers. Cultural values that an organisation stands for could include the loftier principles that triggered the business in the first place as well as what makes it tick today. Anecdotes from customers about empathy, collaboration, learnability, making lives better need not be one-time and static. Organisations have the network, wherewithal and expertise to keep these factual stories coming.
Public relations consultancies could take the lead in providing this kind of training. They have the opportunity to create cultural policies for their clients because large portions of cultural policies are about creating a communicative environment, both internally and externally.
At individual and institutional levels, being responsible is strategic, profitable, forward-looking. Because of the all-encompassing value responsibility entails, responsible action is at both individual and institutional, employee and organisational levels. Such action is not uncommon among corporations, but either needs to be sharpened and recognised, or is choppy and needs work. Responsible actions are sometimes like training programmes—they are quantifiable, but in a roundabout way that is often contended.
That is why Facebook must tell a new story now, one that resonates with the ethical order of the day—politically, socially and economically. This story should encompass new codes that apply to its users, making them more responsible in the way they communicate in public.
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