The Ostrich Effect

The Ostrich Effect

According to Sheryl Sandberg in her exclusive interview with Axios, Facebook is not a media company. Argues Business Insider, “How would you classify a company that:

Most would call that a media company. And most would expect that company to adhere to the standards, safeguards, and rules that all media companies do… A company such as Facebook, which distributes media and makes money off it by selling ads is, by definition, in the media business.”

Didn’t they get the memo? Or see Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network? According to Sandberg, Facebook is a technology company, and can you name a major company out there today that isn’t driven by technology in some form? By Sandberg’s definition, Netflix, Hulu and Comcast would not be defined as media companies, either, and as Business Insider points out, “There are numerous reasons why Facebook would be reticent to admit it’s a media company. It could harm its sky-high valuation, which is currently at about $500 billion… It would also open Facebook up to regulatory rules in the US and other countries that it would rather avoid.”

Blame It on the Algorithm

And therein lies the rub. If you’re a tech company and something goes awry – which it often does with Facebook, and the incidents are just too numerous to list – you can always blame it on the algorithm, never mind that someone is actually putting in the parameters, and the specifications are coming from somewhere and someone. That’s a bit harder of a sell, if you’re a media company, where someone’s always watching.

It’s high time Facebook was regulated as a media company, responsible for such disclaimers as clearly identifying advertising, both brand and political.

But you know the old adage: if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s Facebook attempting to obfuscate once again.

So Much for the Exaltation of Larks

Silicon Valley companies consider themselves unique birds, but truth be told, they’re ostriches, hiding their heads in the proverbial sand and thinking that no one will notice – or will give them yet another pass by dint of their being tech companies rather than traditional corporations, and notice that they never refer to themselves as corporations, which they clearly are? Heads up: Uber Pushed the Limits of the Law. Now Comes the Reckoning. According to Bloomberg, “The ride-hailing company faces at least five U.S. probes, two more than previously reported, and the new CEO will need to dig the company out of trouble.”

“Interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, including several senior executives, describe a widely held view inside the company of the law as something to be tested. Travis Kalanick, the co-founder and former CEO, set up a legal department with that mandate early in his tenure,” says the Bloomberg piece. “Kalanick also defined Uber’s culture by hiring deputies who were, in many instances, either willing to push legal boundaries or look the other way.” Said former Uber legal chief Salle Yoo, “What I’m hearing from this is I actually don’t have to do things like any other legal department. I don’t have to go to best practices. I have to go to what is best for my company, what is best for my legal department. And I should view this as, actually, freedom to do things the way I think things should be done, rather than the way other people do it.”

‘People,’ we assume, meaning beings who actually follow the law. Lest we forget, Uber is a technology company as well. Nothing to see here. Tech companies often view the law as something to be tested. Ever wonder why the expression is, ‘break the law?” It seems that the tech uberlords have now tested it to the breaking point.

Given the European probes into both Google (unfair trade practices) and Amazon (tax evasion), it seems that the strikes against them are mounting up. Being a so-called tech company does not entitle one to a get out of jail free card.


Time for tech to get its head out of the sand and stop blithely ignoring, if not blatantly flaunting, the rules and regulations that govern companies and corporations, that they’ve primarily ignored to dates, and which helped them to amass such so much wealth that they feel above the law. In honor of Sheryl Sandberg and her penchant for leaning in, we defer to one of our very favorite acerbic wits here, Dorothy Parker, who has a way of brilliantly and unerringly capturing a sentiment:

“Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
a medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
and I am Marie of Romania.”

Onward and forward.

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