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In early 2018,
Facebook was implicated in a political scandal known as The Facebook–Cambridge
Analytica data scandal. It was revealed
that Cambridge Analytica, had accessed personal private information of users,
and used it without their consent for political advertising purposes. These
allegations were first reported by Harry Davies, who reported that Cambridge
Analytica was working for a United States Senator, allegations to which
Facebook refused to comment on. In March
of the same year, however, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica,
Christopher Wylie, exposed how the information was accessed and used. He
described how the CEO, Alexander Nix, attracted support and help to access
millions of Facebook profiles, which were in turn used for political
advertising purposes without the users’ consent. The result was a massive fall
in Facebook's stock price and calls for tighter regulation of tech companies'
use of personal data.
The Facebook scandal
is one of many examples in which corporates have engaged in unethical business
practices time and time again in the quest of getting ahead. In doing this, there is a major disregard of ethical
regulations that are meant to guide business practices. Some individuals upon assuming positions of
authority, neglect to adhere to codes of practice, and use their assumed
positions to advance their own personal agendas. The example of the Facebook scandal sheds
light on three psychological dimensions that lead to unethical behaviour;
omnipotence, cultural numbness, and justified neglect.
Omnipotence is the
belief in an individual that they have unlimited power, so much so that rules
of accountability do not apply to them. This happens in the corporate world on a daily
basis, when decisions are made based on an individual’s own interests more than
the best interests of the organisation.
Before someone makes a decision, they are more likely to ask the
question, “what’s in it for me?” The
result of this is decision making influenced by personal needs, hampering the
success of the organisation at large.
The second dimension
we find in this instance is Cultural Numbness.
This is when individuals observe the unruly behaviour, go along with
this behaviour, and gradually come to accept this behaviour as normal. In the Cambridge Analytica Scandal,
Christopher Wylie highlighted how the CEO had help from the Breitbart editor
and Cambridge Professor in accessing this personal information and making it
available for illicit use. In doing this,
the accomplices knew they were indulging in unethical behaviour, but
participated regardless, as they realised they could potentially gain
financially from this. Scandals of this
nature are uncovered on a regular basis in the corporate world. Disregard for ethical practices continues to
persist, despite there being guidelines on conducting business practices.
The third dimension,
justified neglect, is also covered in the scandal. Justified neglect is when people do not
expose unethical behaviour because they are more concerned about staying on the
‘good side’ of the authority figure.
Staying on the good side would potentially mean benefits which may
include increased remuneration, promotion to similar positions of authority and
staying in employment. An individual may
do a cost-benefit analysis, and find that it is more beneficial for them to
participate in the activities, as opposed to exposing them.
In light of all this, the question that remains is where do we draw the line in our practices? How much are we willing to break codes of conduct in advancing our own interests? Are we willing to incur major financial loss before we draw the line somewhere in conducting ourselves? The Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal is a good example of how costly breaching ethical guidelines can be on an organisation, and why it is always important to be compliant in all business practices
Mavengere is a Business Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt)
Ltd, a business management and human resources consulting firm.
+263 242 481946-48/481950
+263 717 988 319
This article was written by one of the consultants at IPC
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