In the U.S., we have just experienced a moral capitalism episode with respect to the use of the internet. It seems that Facebook’s Instagram product (or is it a service?) has negative, net impacts (externalities) on many users.
Facebook was aware that postings on Instagram made 25% of its teenage users “feel worse” about themselves. Forty-two percent said that Instagram made them feel better. Facebook knew that “being in a low or vulnerable state of mind means teens are more vulnerable to the content they see online.”
So what is to be done? What should be the response of a moral business? How should it internalize dealing with the consequences associated with use of its product or service?
One option under serious consideration in the U.S. is government regulation of what internet companies allow on their platforms or subjecting such companies to legal responsibility for misuse of the platform causing harm to others. Another is voluntary company censorship of what is posted on its online platform.
But a third, overlooked option is setting forth ethical expectations for those who use Instagram and other platforms to communicate their thoughts, words and pictures. Users exercise freedom to post. They act on their own authority, for their own purposes. Any such use of power implicates ethics and morals: is it good or bad, ethical or unethical, helpful or harmful?
Why do we not expect more of consumers of products and services? The outcomes of capitalism, really of any system, flow from the decisions of those who use the system. Consumers, as stakeholders of society, shape the quality of their own lives and the lives of those around them.
Can we not expect thoughtful personal assumption of responsibility as part of living in a moral society?