The local Cambridge Analytica data scandal entered a new chapter after the Indonesia ICT Institute (IDICTI) and the Indonesian Information Society Empowerment Development Institute (LPPMII) officially filed a class action lawsuit against Facebook in mid-May. In their lawsuit files, ICT and LPPMII demanded compensation of Rp11.21 trillion from Facebook because they were considered to have misused and leaked users’ personal data without permission.

This legal case adds to the length of the problems faced by Facebook as a result of the scandal. After Britain and Indonesia, on May 22, Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the European Union Parliament in Brussels and was questioned about the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Last April, Zuckerberg was also questioned by the US Congress and called himself responsible and emphasized that Facebook is committed to adopting a broader philosophical thinking in understanding and realizing their responsibilities.

The important lesson from this scandal is that every type of business has a responsibility according to the effect it has. Extractive industries, such as mining and oil and gas companies do business by “extracting” natural resource content. Social media companies actually carry out similar “extraction” activities, but in the social environment through the collection and use of user data.

If extractive industry companies bear the responsibility for managing primarily the impact on nature and the environment, social media companies, including Facebook must be aware of and bear responsibility for the effects their operations can primarily affect on social fabric.

ISO 26000 SR, an international guide on social responsibility, provides guidance in recognizing the social responsibility of an organization by examining the scope of its business operations. Facebook’s business model is characterized by two important features, namely a user-based platform and user-generated content (UGC). Two main aspects of social responsibility emerge from these two features.

First, as a social network Facebook is a user-based platform that provides access to users to register and use services by providing their personal data. When using social media, users are exposed to various digital behaviors. This is what Facebook is capitalizing on to power their business operations. With a number of users from 100 million to 2.2 billion in the last decade, the social media giant has built a digital advertising business with around US$40 billion in revenue in 2017.

Pay Attention to CSR
It can be said that Facebook has a global database of users with a very large scale and number. The Cambridge Analytica scandal reveals that there are data misuse practices triggered by a lack of privacy protection. This shows that the first aspect of social responsibility for Facebook is to ensure the highest standards of privacy protection with reference to ethical values, especially in the collection and use of user data.

Second, the user generated contents (UGC) feature, which allows users to create and share content on their timeline. Although Facebook has many positive impacts such as building communities and social movements and helping business development, social media also has an adverse effect, namely the occurrence of misinformation and the spread of negative content, such as hate speech and fake news (hoax). This kind of content contributes to local tensions and conflicts through issues that divide and polarize society as happened in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

The rise of content that smells of terrorism and radicalism is also one of the things that is in the spotlight. Thus, the second important aspect of Facebook’s social responsibility is to combat negative content on their social media more intensively and significantly.

Paying attention to social responsibility is important for businesses. The Cambridge Analytica data scandal has cost Facebook a reputation. A study from the Ponemon Institute, a US think tank, shows that trust in Facebook’s commitment to protecting user data and privacy this year fell by 66% from 2017. The #DeleteFacebook campaign could threaten user loyalty and growth.

Therefore, the urgency in carrying out social responsibility in a more comprehensive manner is becoming increasingly relevant for social media companies. In the aftermath of the data scandal, Mark Zuckerberg has affirmed his commitment to improving Facebook, including by increasing privacy settings, tightening application access to user data, and deploying 20,000 staff to monitor and reduce negative content.

As a result, an important social responsibility agenda for Facebook is to ensure that all the steps currently planned are effective and bring about change. To be more accountable and transparent, Facebook can communicate the actions that have been taken and the results that have been achieved in carrying out its social responsibility. This can be done through sustainability reporting by disclosing the operational impacts of Facebook, contributions, and management approaches to economic, environmental and social aspects. This sustainability report can simultaneously serve as a monitoring effort, increase public trust, and gradually help restore Facebook’s reputation. It is noteworthy that the Facebook sustainability website currently only focuses on environmental aspects.

In 1953, when Howard R. Bowen, an academic and economist from the US published a book entitled Social Responsibilities of the Businessman, information technology and social media had not developed as rapidly as they are today. However, his ideas and thoughts remain relevant. According to Bowen, large companies are “vital centers of power, decisions and actions” that affect the lives of many people. Facebook and other social media companies undoubtedly have that capacity. So, with great power comes great (social) responsibility or with great power demands big (social) responsibility as well.


Mardian Marsono is a Senior Consultant at Kiroyan Partners and ASEAN CSR Fellow 2018.

Source: KONTAN, June 2, 2018, page 19.

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