LISTEN while I tell you a story
The tale of the Marlboro brand
It came out of Richmond, Virginia one day
And spread clear across the land.”
Oh my, how things have changed. Times were that even kids my age were watching a cowboy ride into the sunset with his Marlboro smokes, to the background music with the lyrics above. Smoking was the thing, it was macho, it gave you the ambience of the USA. This was the world before the surgeon general’s warning made it to the label of a Marlboro pack (and indeed all cigarette packs), in the days before big tobacco admitted that indeed, it was poisoning the world with its products, and that basically it was a bad business that ought not be given the license to operate.
The thing is, of course, the damage had already been done.
Who would not, for example, know of anyone in their own family or circle of friends, who succumbed to some sort of respiratory illness brought about by the toxins in cigarette smoke. I bet most of our readers do. And I bet most have already given up on their own smoking habits, if ever they were even into it.
Today, a new jingle could be sung, much like the ubiquitous Marlboro tune, and it would sound like this:
“Listen while I tell you a story
The tale of the Facebook page
It came out of Harvard, in Boston one day
And spread clear across the land.”
Yup, today Facebook has become the new Marlboro. Not from Richmond, but from Boston. Not carcinogenic, but potentially just as bad in terms of its effects on society, if left unchecked and unregulated.
This week, CNN ran a special on the “fake news” capital of the world—the town of Veles, in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. “Enterprising” residents of the town discovered a way to make money from Facebook’s pay-per-click business model, where accounts with a huge number of followers are compensated, every time someone clicked and liked their posts. And what’s the best way to get likes? Why with “fake news,” of course, especially to a less-than-informed electorate, such as for example what happened in the last US presidential elections.
After a long period of denial and justification, the internet giant has now at least admitted that there were indeed “fake” posts emanating from their site, and that these posts may have indeed have had some effect on the outcome of the last US presidential elections.
True, Facebook does not cause people to be physically ill, as Marlboro did and continues to do. And that’s why the connection to Marlboro and the harm it caused to society may not be something that people associate with Facebook. And most probably, Facebook does not intend any malice with its business practices.
But intentional or not, malicious or not, its business model (and its failure to police its content and users) has caused untold harm to a society, and indeed to the whole world. And just as Marlboro eventually had to man up to the consequences of its business, Facebook now also has to grow up, own up to its shortcomings, and take whatever steps necessary so that no harm will ever come out of its operations. Either this, or display a disclaimer as Marlboro does: “Warning, clicking like and sharing posts on our site may result in harm to societies, countries and the world. Enter at your own risk.”
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on October 02, 2017.
Latest issues of SunStar Cebu also available on your mobile phones, laptops, and tablets. Subscribe to our digital editions at epaper.sunstar.com.ph and get a free seven-day trial.