Safety as a cost centre in Facebook?


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In October, a former Facebook employee Frances Haugen told the UK parliament that Facebook “views safety as a cost centre and not an investment for growth” (CNN). This made me think of two things.

First, what is a cost centre. A simple definition is some unit, part of function of an organisation for which costs can be identified and for which a manager can be held responsible. I am sure Facebook can identify the costs associated with keeping people safe online, and there could/should be a cost centre manager. Whether Facebook actually does have someone responsible for what it might define as “safety” on its platforms is questionable – and not a debate for here.

Second, it reminded me of lessons learned in manufacturing. I recall comments about safety being one of those things which did not deliver a readily visible “return”. However, the outcomes of not having a safe work environment would be visible – injuries, downtime, even death. Thus, drawing on Haugen’s words safety may have been an investment not for growth (in sales, profits), but an investment to saving greater costs – cost of legal claims in a financial sense, or the moral costs of having employees injured or worse. With this in mind, I wonder if part of the problem for social media companies is that the effects of “poor safety” are not visible as they happen in locations far removed from their offices. Of course, the content reviewers at social media companies are exposed to all forms of content and I really sympathise with them.

To take a line from the comedy Father Ted, “here is a mad idea” for all social media companies, thinking safety, costs, and revenue at the same time. It is a thought I have had for a while, but never considered writing about or developing. Everyone joining your platform must provide a credit card with a minimum limit of say $/£/€ 500 (maybe more). As AI is more able to filter content, if any content posted is unsafe, offensive, untrue etc, take a substantial charge from the card. This could reduce costs internally, put the onus back to the keyboard warriors to behave and make the social media world a safer place. I am sure someone will say this would reduce user numbers, but safe and responsible firms are the ones that tend to survive. Something to consider for Mr Zuckerberg and others perhaps

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About martinjquinn

I am an accounting academic, accountant and author based near Dublin, Ireland.

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