Facebook: Hard Questions (A)

By Ken Shotts, Neil Malhotra, Sheila Melvin
2018 | Case No. ETH15-A | Length 16 pgs.

In April 2018, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called to Capitol Hill to be the star witness at congressional hearings intended to examine Facebook’s “breaches of trust” with its users and “larger questions about the fundamental relationship tech companies have with their users.” Zuckerberg admitted that his company faced “a number of important issues around privacy, safety, and democracy” but emphasized that his company was “idealistic and optimistic…focused on all the good that connecting people can bring.”

This ethics case (A) explores some of the issues Facebook has faced since 2014, the criticism it has come under, and its responses. These issues include the “emotional contagion experiment;” privacy issues; fake news; Russian interference in US elections; the “Cambridge Analytica” scandal; charges of bias through targeted ads; and accusations of liberal bias and censorship. The second part of the case (B) then describes some of Facebook’s policy responses to these issues, including tweaking the algorithm; developing and deploying new AI tools; changing its mission; and communicating with the public.

Also see:  ETH15-B: Facebook: Hard Questions (B )

Learning Objective

The case can be used for two purposes.

In classes on business ethics, the case can be used to analyze role of moral intuitions in determining how stakeholders respond to a company’s policies. It also can be used to highlight the fact that a company’s executives and employees often fail to anticipate these stakeholder reactions.

In classes on strategy beyond markets or business and society, the case can be used to analyze companies’ strategic reactions to issues like privacy, data security, fake news, and politicization of a company’s platform. These reactions can take a variety of forms, ranging from public relations and lobbying efforts to self-regulation and rethinking the company’s products and policies.

This material is available for download by current Stanford GSB students, faculty, and staff, as well as Stanford GSB alumni. For inquires, contact the Case Writing Office. Download