facebook Impact of Tech Companies | Net Solutions Scholarship Winner 2022

The Role of Tech Companies like Facebook in Altering the Social Fabric

Elliot is the winner of the Net Solutions scholarship campaign for the year 2021-2022. With his exceptional and mature writing style, language, and flow, he has given remarkable insight into the role of technology companies. He is the winner of the Net Solutions scholarship campaign for the year 2021-2022.

Technology companies, by design, transform the world: as famed business consultant Peter F Drucker states, “Innovate or die!”. Technology companies encompass various areas, from social media to software design, but they all contain qualities of maintaining electronic systems or products. Tech companies’ resources allow for several investments in new technologies; companies either invest or buy out smaller companies to integrate new technological developments into their corporate ecosystems. Like any other big company, to maintain this hegemony, these companies must alter the social fabric so that consumers tolerate their actions.

The world’s social fabric comprises three main sectors: politics, economics, and the environment. Politics concern the body politic of countries in which these companies operate. Likewise, economics affects optimal financial conditions for companies to prosper. The environment focuses on how companies manipulate the world’s ecosystems and the public perception of said ecosystems. Technology companies’ role is to transform the world and social fabric to maintain company profitability.

Tech companies, mainly social media companies, manipulate the political opinions of their users regarding the accessibility and inaccessibility of information. For example, leading up to the 2021 United States Capitol Attack, companies like Meta and Twitter allowed extremist content to fester on their platforms. Both misinformation and disinformation remained amuck in Facebook communities without company surveillance.

Malicious actors such as the Proud Boys could use Facebook’s services to communicate with extremists to plan an attack on the capitol building. During the attack, various social media companies blocked the former President of the United States, Donald Trump, from interacting with his online base, which to many, prevented further escalation of violence on Capitol Hill. Social Media companies took advantage of the extremist connect by allowing bad actors to fester their services and increase advertising revenue.

Still, when several users’ actions culminated in the attack, social media companies banned the president from maintaining good standing with their users.

Ultimately, social media companies manipulate the American social fabric by allowing extremist content on their platforms and prohibiting the president of the United States, demonstrating technology companies’ power in transforming political culture.

An additional case study is the ongoing Rohingya crisis, in which companies like Facebook have allowed pro-junta and pro-violence content to remain on their platform without restraint. According to Amnesty International, the current government in Myanmar is committing ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people. Despite this, Facebook was initially instrumental in allowing political actors to spread anti-Rohingya sentiment across its platform with minimal resistance.

Only after a United Nations Report and several activists pleading for Facebook to act did the company censor hateful pro-government messages. Facebook’s inaction altered the world by allowing more heinous acts to be committed against the Rohingya people.

According to BuzzFeed News, before Facebook banned 52 Facebook pages, almost 12 million people followed them. The company helped erode Myanmar’s civil society and negatively impact the country’s social fabric. Facebook still profited from the activity that the negative political actors’ accounts generated but only stopped after bad publicity circulated online.

In contrast to the Rohingya crisis, the Arab Spring demonstrates that technology companies can align with democratic interests if it supports website engagement. In 2011 various political activists used social media to organize their discontent with autocratic and anocratic governments across the Middle East. According to Elizabeth Linder, a Facebook Politics and Government Specialist from 2008 to 2016, various civil servants, government officials, and activists applauded Facebook’s usefulness in supporting democratic governments.

Because the pro-democratic sentiment aligned with Facebook and most of the public, Facebook allowed this political content to be maintained on the platform.

In contrast to the previous two examples, technological companies do not only negatively impact civil society; they transform the world and society whenever it negatively impacts their finances. In the case of the Arab Spring, Facebook didn’t need to intervene because the status quo was affable to positive user engagement and thus provided the company revenue. Technological companies allow political actors to transform the world and change countries’ social order if it does not negatively impact the companies’ profitability.

Technology companies take advantage of education by supplying schools with technological equipment for free, building brand recognition and interest in technology. Various companies provide laptops to schools across the United States, one of the most notable being Google.

According to the New York Times, Google’s affordable and brand-recognizable Chromebook became a staple across America. With the market for affordable laptops in need, Google gladly filled that role. This impacted various American classrooms as now students and teachers have access to technology that can benefit students’ learning.

Ultimately, it allowed less fortunate school districts to quickly adapt to the incoming technological world thanks to Google’s innovation. Overall, Google providing low-income school districts will positively alter the social fabric of several classrooms. Nevertheless, Google was able to profit from schools; adoption of Chromebooks by allowing students to enter Google’s Software as a Service ecosystem and to create positive brand recognition with students across America. Technology compacts can alter the world and create a social good if they can get a market advantage over competitors.

The work-from-home movement demonstrates technology companies’ inconsistency in changing and transforming the economic lives of users compared to employees. Since the CoVid-19 pandemic, various workers have preferred working from home rather than in offices. According to the Pew Research Center, in January of 2022, 61% of workers with work-at-home jobs prefer working from home for the foreseeable future.

With technologies such as Zoom and Skype, working from home has become increasingly manageable. Nevertheless, tech companies such as Apple would prefer that despite the technological innovations that allow for at-home working, it is better managerially for workers to return to the office. This demonstrates that technical companies’ ability to transform the world does not only apply to changing the status quo but also returning to it. Additionally, this schism presents the limitations of companies’ ability to alter the social fabric of their workers. This disconnect shows that while tech companies can influence economic conditions like brand recognition, worker demands remain stringent and hard to control.

The advent of cryptocurrencies demonstrates tech companies’ disregard for the environment if it allows for profit generation. As the popularity of cryptocurrencies soars, the environmental impact dimmer technology companies’ ability to significantly improve the environment’s welfare. According to The Balance, the production of Bitcoin, a popular cryptocurrency, requires approximately 70.36 teraWatts of energy–it requires as much energy as the country of Czechia. This energy consumption is often fueled by carbon-intensive means, particularly coal.

Technology companies that foster the production of cryptocurrencies negatively transform the world by contributing to the catastrophic consequences of climate change. While the short-term social fabric of the general public may view cryptocurrencies as niche, the long-term social fabric of the world becomes less stable. Despite the negative externality, the short-term profit from Bitcoin allows companies specializing in cryptocurrency to maintain profitability as they reap the reward of cryptocurrencies’ current market value.

The electric-car industry showcases the impact of ” green-washing ” on consumers and the willingness that environmentally conscious companies will negatively impact the environment. Electric cars produce less carbon dioxide and, thus, less environmental damage than gasoline-based cars. Nevertheless, electric cars still produce a large amount of energy to create and maintain.

Technology and auto companies “greenwash” the production of environment-intensive technologies to seem more palpable to consumers. This transforms the social fabric of car consumers as electronic car buyers may believe they are contributing to alleviating the climate crisis. However, tech companies are changing the world’s climate for the worse. Similar to political and economic considerations, tech companies will only prioritize the environment if it allows them to survive financially.

Ultimately, tech companies’ role in the modern world centers on altering the world’s political, economic, and environmental factors to obtain a profit. By design, any company’s motive is to remain solvent, but tech companies, particularly massive ones, have significant influence to maintain their hegemonic positions. Social media companies’ impact on political discourse allows for manipulating people’s political allegiances and creating political strife. Nevertheless, the social culture within tech companies prevents abhorrent behavior for fear of external and internal backlash. Economically, technology companies cultivate positive brand images to secure future tech workers and profits.

Moreover, reliance on technology gives technology companies an advantage when negotiating contracts. Finally, technology companies “greenwash” their actions to appear environmentally concerned to the general public while still participating in technology that irresponsibly damages the environment. Technology companies are neither moral nor immoral: they’re amoral. Whether or not the technological creations of these companies transform the world for the better or worse for society depends on whether these companies can remain competitive. Technology companies cannot innovate themselves out of the reality of business, and no one should believe otherwise.

Elliot Barta

About the Author

Elliot Barta, a double major in Economics and Data Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, seeks intellectual stimulation through reading, gaming, and running while listening to his favorite music. He loves to engage in volunteering and discussions related to economics & data science. His ideal vacation involves exploring Boston's history and local cuisine with family. His comfort food is chicken, pizza, and spaghetti. Elliot aspires to publish impactful papers and pursue a career as an econometrician in banking, aiming for a successful and fulfilling life.

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