Most of us know the story of Facebook – who else suspended their account after watching the Social Dilemma? How the site was launched in a dorm room at Harvard as a platform to connect college students to rapidly morphing to become the world’s largest and most influential social network. With over 2.8 billion active monthly users, the tech megalith is valued at over $700 billion and it’s CEO and founder, Mark Zuckerburg, is worth a cool $114 billion.
Under the Facebook umbrella are some of the many apps we all scroll through daily as a way to connect, shop, search, and pass the time. Whether it is via Messenger, the Facebook app itself, Instagram, or WhatsApp, our purchasing decisions are highly influenced by Facebook. Maybe it is by the influencers or celebrities we all follow, through the algorithms that hit us with eerily personal targeted ads, or by our previous online shopping habits they almost all circle back to Facebook. This Vox article broke it down nicely:
“...companies are able to target specific people by other means, namely through sending Facebook a list of emails, which Facebook can then use to find associated accounts. If you’ve ever bought anything from, say, Urban Outfitters, the brand could use the email you used to either make the purchase online or the one you gave at the checkout counter to specifically target you. And if you happened to be browsing Glossier.com, while still logged into Facebook, you might return to the social media app to find ads for Boy Brow.”
It isn’t all bad. Facebook’s Marketplace portion of it’s app is a safe and accessible way to make conscious and sustainable purchasing decisions by buying or reselling second-hand items in your community.
Scroll this post like it’s your newsfeed and see how Facebook stacks up to the most applied Arbor values of Emissions, Human Rights, and Corporate Ethics.
Emissions Score: 3/5
Our online habits, whether through including Facebook or not, have an impact on the environment. A small amount of carbon dioxide is released to fuel your devices and run all the wireless networks. And a greater, sometimes overlooked impact, is the amount of energy required to power and sustain the vast network of servers and data processors. These somewhat mysterious centres of mass production store all the information that we have at our fingertips. According to Facebook, the annual emissions released overtime from you logging on is less than it takes to make a cup of coffee. But with the roughly 1.85 billion users of the platform who log on everyday (this doesn’t even include Instagram), the emissions start to add up.
As of 2020, Facebook reached net zero greenhouse gas emissions in their business operations and became fully supported by renewable energy. They have also reduced their operational emissions (scope 1 and 2) by 75% in 2020 compared to their baseline emissions of 2017. This adds up to 364,000 metric tons of CO2 reduced! Facebook is also committed to net zero emissions across the value chain by 2030. Quick fact: value chain emissions are the bread and butter of the emissions released in Scope 3 –we talk a bit about how the three Scopes work in our post about Nike here, or you can go straight to the source deep dive into the measuring system outlined in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. In 2019, Facebook started to offset its Scope 3 emissions, which also includes corporate travel, with a total reduction of 100,000 metric tons of emission, which is like removing 22,000 cars off the road a year.
Available through the Facebook app, is their Climate Science Information Center: a company lead research group that acts as an online resource centre that fills your ‘feed with information from climate science publications and organizations.
Facebook also supports the gold-standard of corporate climate reduction, the Science-Based Targets. A coalition of the CDP, the United Nations Global Impact, World Resources Institute, and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), these targets are set up to provide corporations with a framework to meet climate goals as outlined by the Paris Agreement – where the ultimate goal is to limit the range of global warming below 2C above the pre-industrial levels and to steer us all towards the cohesive effort to limit warming to 1.5C.
In 2019, Facebook was the biggest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the US and the second in the world, right behind Amazon (read about our company spotlight on Amazon here). Purchasing and focusing on renewable energy, such as solar and wind energy, is an important step to overall decarbonization as it reduces the company’s reliance on fossil fuels. Most of Facebook’s renewable energy purchases are focused on supplying power to their vast data centres.
Why does Facebook get a 3/5 score? First of all their goals are ambitious and none of the goals they have outlined are original or particularly groundbreaking. Offsetting emissions is an important goal that all of the big tech companies should and are on the path to achieving. Google have been the frontrunners in the offsetting race since 2007 and have already off-set all of the carbon emissions released from the company’s inception in 1988 (read our write up on Google here, where they snagged a 5/5 score). If Facebook wants to play in the same league, it is going to need to come up with a more noteworthy approach.
Human Rights Score: 3/5
A responsible supply or value chain cannot be achieved without prioritizing it’s human component. To ethically and effectively reduce emissions and a negative impact on the environment, companies need to put the pressure on ensuring safe and healthy working conditions across their global networks. Although the negative impact from the tech industry’s supply chain isn’t as scrutinized as that of the fashion industry (read what we have to say about fast fashion here) the impact on the people involved is still very real.
According to Facebook:
More and more, human rights are exercised — and violated — online. Billions of people enjoy freedom of expression, access to information and the right to education in the digital space. But they can also experience hate speech, bullying and harassment and have their privacy violated in that same space.
On a platform like Facebook, where there are an innumerable amount of groups, chats, threads, posts, and communities where human rights violations can occur, it is up to moderators to comb through potentially harmful content before it reaches our newsfeeds. There are about 20,000 Facebook moderators around the world whose jobs are to decide if something is too disturbing to stay on their platform. To mitigate this, Facebook has set up trauma counselling programs for it’s moderators and, not to mention, settled a hefty lawsuit –more on that below.
In 2018, Mark Zucherburg first appeared before a senate judiciary committee in hopes to defend Facebook’s role in a highly publicized data harvesting scandal. The New York Times, the Observer of London, and the Guardian, rallied together and obtained a plethora of information proving that the data firm, Cambridge Analytica, inappropriately obtained personal data from Facebook –the data from 87 million users to be exact– and used it to build American voter profiles and sell them to political campaigns.
Let’s see how that went for Mark:
This also led the US Federal Trades Commission fining Facebook $5 billion for breaking the law by previously agreeing to safeguard its users private information. This amount is more of a flash in the pan for a company with the wealth of Facebook, and FTC commissioner Rohit Chopra said “breaking the law has to be riskier than following it.” Meaning, they ended up making more during the scandal than it eventually cost them.
Corporate Ethics Score: 3/5
In 2020 Facebook settled a class action lawsuit for a $52 million payout to current and former moderators for PTSD, emotional trauma, depression, and addiction as a result from what has been described by moderators as “the worst job in the world.” The suit alleged the role of the content moderators was to maintain a “sanitized platform, maximize its already vast profits and cultivate its public image” .
In 2007, the founder of facebook, Mark Zuckerburg, was in the headlines for the highly publicized case filed against him, for allegedly stealing the code, design, and business plan to create Facebook from the founders of ConnectU –a site that he was working for while he was a student at Harvard. He was accused of fraud, copyright infringement, and misappropriation of trade secrets. Zuckerburg went on to launch Facebook before ConnectU started it’s own platform a few months later. Facebook settled this particular lawsuit in 2009 for $65 million cash and $1.25 million in shares to the plaintiffs.
A lawsuit filed in 2016 claimed that facebook illegally scanned private messages and funnelled them into a publicly searchable database. According to the lawsuit: “Facebook scans the content of their private messages, and if there is a link to a web page contained in that message, Facebook treats it as a “like” of the page, and increases the page’s “like” counter by one. Plaintiffs further allege that Facebook uses this data regarding “likes” to compile user profiles, which it then uses to deliver targeted advertising to its users. Plaintiffs allege that the messaging function is designed to allow users to communicate privately with other users, and that Facebook’s practice of scanning the content of these messages violates the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act.”
Facebook claims the records kept from these messages are more like a “New York Times bestsellers list” and that the data is mostly anonymous and used as a way to showcase the popularity of the information though the “likes”. Turns out, that’s not exactly the case. A technological analysis performed on the behalf of the plaintiffs showed that the data is still being stored and the users information is still quite accessible.
Most recently, a low-level hacker leaked the personal data of more than 533 million Facebook users from around the world. This includes addresses, birthdates and even phone numbers. Yikes!
Facebook isn’t necessarily a brand that has products of its own for sale, but understanding how it conducts itself as a defacto Puppet Master of Purchasing is an important instrument in the fight against climate change and the race to a sustainable future. In the effort to make conscious choices, we as consumers, need to know the ins and outs of how our choices are being influenced and where the information is coming from. We have the power to make changes in the world and to take the control back through knowledge, education, and asking the right questions.