The Corner

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Facebook: Whose Company Is It?

Those pushing the idea of ‘stakeholder capitalism,’ a peculiarly insidious form of corporatism, may not like it, but a company is, in the end, the property of its shareholders. By extension, its board, its management, and its regular staff work for those shareholders, and their job is to maximize shareholder return (while following, of course, the law).

Increasingly, it seems as if some employees in Silicon Valley have forgotten this very basic principle.

Bloomberg:

After Facebook decided not to take down the incendiary looting-and-shooting post by President Trump, its employees took to rival platform Twitter to voice displeasure with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg…[A] software engineer who works at Facebook-owned Instagram, said he was “utterly ashamed.” …[A] data analyst, declared Facebook “on the wrong side of history.”…

Earlier this year, employees were upset when Facebook indicated it would allow politicians to lie in their advertisements, despite a commitment to culling election misinformation. Zuckerberg didn’t back down, saying Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of what’s acceptable in political speech. And in October 2018, employees rallied against Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president for public policy, who directly supported Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice.

While it is always interesting (if unsurprising) to see an example of crude historical determinism out in the open (history has no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ side, it just is), the question as to how far an employee’s opinions are compatible with his or her continued employment can be a tricky one, especially when those opinions directly relate to the business, as is the case in examples such as these, which do not — shall we say — appear to look at this question from the perspective of the company’s profitability.

My own preference is always towards favoring free expression, combined, perhaps, with some skepticism as to how much some employees — well, at least those in a position to get a good job elsewhere — who speak out against their companies’ policies really mean it. After all, they do not have to stay there.

Meanwhile, the responsibility for running the company must remain with management — and management needs to remember that its responsibility is to shareholders.

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