De-platformed within a 24-hour span by Amazon, Apple, and Google, social-media service Parler tries to rise from the dead. What’s the direct and collateral damage of success or failure?

Framing

In setting norms, how an issue is framed goes a long way towards deciding it.

Whoever wins the framing battle often wins the policy war.

Wikipedia’s Framing of Parler: The Mein Kampf of Social Media

Here’s how Wikipedia describes Parler: “An American alt-tech microblogging and social networking service. Parler has a significant user base of Donald Trump supporters, conservatives, conspiracy theorists, and right-wing extremists. Posts on the service often contain far-right content, antisemitism, and conspiracy theories such as QAnon. Journalists have described Parler as an alternative to Twitter, and users include those banned from mainstream social networks or opposing their moderation policies include those banned from mainstream social networks or opposing their moderation policies.”

How Parler Describes Itself: Defender of Privacy, Free Speech, and Civil Discourse

Here is an excerpt from Parler’s now inactive website: “We believe privacy is paramount and free speech essential, especially on social media. Our aim has always been to provide a nonpartisan public square where individuals can enjoy and exercise their rights to both….We will not let civil discourse perish.”

Puffery vs. Deception

Readers should decide for themselves how to describe Parler. But everyone should keep in mind that ethics requires more than compliance. Ethical limits on spin should be set higher than defamation.

This means committing to fairness and balance. Some journalists, bloggers, and Communications executives may make a very good living as hacks, but it’s not an honest living.

Ethics for Business Leaders Relate To Their Duties, Not Their Personal Preferences

Companies belong to all of their shareholders as a class. Controlling shareholders, directors, and officers must serve the interests of the company, not their personal goals, however worthy.

The Business Judgment Rule

Directors— and in many jurisdictions, officers — enjoy broad discretion to act in the best interests of the company. Under the “Business Judgment Rule,” U.S. courts will generally respect this discretion where it is informed, exercised in good faith, and based on an honest belief that discretion is exercised in the best interests of the company.

— Informed Basis

Look at the framing of Wikipedia and Parler. Are they even talking about the same company?

Acting on an informed basis requires business leaders to cut through the spin and to make some effort to unearth the facts, so far as they can be known.

Where there has been a course of dealing between the company and a counterparty, it’s fair to ask what new information triggers and justifies a sudden change in course.

— Exercised In Good Faith

Puffery, spin, and pretext might work for politics and blogging. But not for the Business Judgment Rule.

Good faith requires even-handed application of principles. If Parler has been de-platformed for its own behavior or those of its customers, do the de-platformers treat similar cases similarly?

— In An Honest Belief That Discretion Is Exercised In The Best Interests Of The Company

Business leaders should spell out how a decision redounds to the benefit of the company. This includes safeguarding the company’s most valuable long-term asset: its reputation.

Testing the honesty of a belief includes looking at the process by which a decision was made. Major decisions typically work their way through the company’s corporate-governance processes and bodies. They help ensure that the decision is well-informed, well-intentioned, and thought through.

Compare Nike’s CEO alerting his Board to a planned advertising campaign featuring the controversial Colin Kaepernick, to Expensify CEO’s unilaterally deciding to send a sharply partisan message to all Expensify customers via Expensify channels.

Decisions taken hurriedly or without consultation suggest ulterior motives that undercut claims of honest belief.

Direct And Collateral Damage

Mark Twain
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) 1885-1910, lecturer and author BETTMANN ARCHIVE

Mark Twain was the world’s greatest cynic. Yet, amazingly, he had this to say about business ethics: “The basis of successful business is honesty; a business cannot thrive where the parties to it cannot trust each other.”

Readers should make up their own minds about de-platforming Parler.

But, they should also be mindful of how they make up their minds. Deciding without considered framing, respect for duties, or proper exercise of business judgment erodes trust.

Without trust, no business will thrive.

(This column first appeared in Forbes. Reprinted here with permission)

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