Harvey Mudd College is well-known in the world of tech for being an engineering powerhouse, and in the new age of increasing interest in computer science, the college has begun to churn out more computer scientists as well. Mudd is the No. 1 engineering college in the country and the No. 1 computer science school as well (although rankings vary depending on which list you’re looking at).
According to the college’s mission statement, Harvey Mudd works to educate students “with a clear understanding of the impact of their work on society.” As such, I was interested as to how students would feel about working for Facebook, a company that has been embroiled in controversy over the past two years.
News organizations like The New York Times have found Facebook guilty of various scandals, including but not limited to data harvesting and ignoring Russian agents who used Facebook to try to influence the 2016 election.
Given the moral problems surrounding the company, I asked various students at Mudd (who chose to remain anonymous) if they would work for Facebook, and why or why not.
Here are their responses.
No, I would not work for Facebook
“I don’t want to make tools that could help a corrupt system, and I certainly don’t want to be a part of a company that works against democracy.”
Facebook’s employees may not be at fault for the harm the company has caused, but they were, at the very least, part of the problem. Their work allowed Cambridge Analytica to collect personal data on millions of Facebook users in order to help various political organizations and politicians, including Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
The social media site has also been accused by many of “undermining democratic values around the world.” Mark Zuckerberg’s platform was used by Russian operatives to influence the 2016 general election in Trump’s favor, and it has also been used to support white supremacism and anti-Semitism, as reported by The New York Times.
Even outside of the United States, Facebook was blamed for spreading “hate speech against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar that resulted in their ethnic cleansing.” It’s completely understandable that new graduates do not want to be involved in a company entangled with such scandals and corruption.
“I would be contributing nothing to society by working for Facebook. Sure, Facebook does help people find each other, but that’s been a feature from the moment it was invented. The only things to do now are to make people more dependent on it and make it more profitable.”
This student does make a point. Current employees at Facebook have an impact on users in that they make the Facebook experience more enjoyable, but the overall function of the social media site hasn’t changed much in the 14 years it’s been public.
However, another Mudd senior made another important argument. During their two summers as a Facebook intern, this student had the opportunity to get an insider view at the company, and they said that “there are still many teams at Facebook that are able to create a really positive impact on society.” Specifically, they cited Safety Check (a connection method during disasters), internet.org (a plan to bring internet access to more people) and other security, privacy, and integrity teams used to protect users.
Of course, these teams have quite a bit more work to do given the recent issues with the privacy, such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Yes, I would work for Facebook
“I want to be part of one of the companies that’s at the head of innovation. How can you reject that kind of offer?”
Despite their bad reputation, the company is considered to be one of the top tech companies in the country. Plus, the average annual base salary at the social media company is $120,000, a figure that is hard for other job recruiters to beat. It would make sense that newly graduated engineers and computer scientists would want a fast-paced, well-paying job — especially because Mudd graduates have a lot of debt to pay off.
Plus, even if a new graduate got a job at Facebook and then moved on, their resume would look very impressive. At least from a purely monetary and ambition-based stance, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to work at Facebook.
“If I did join Facebook, I’d try to be deliberate in working to create a culture of transparency.”
I got a lot of responses that were similar to this. Again, students at Harvey Mudd are expected to understand the impact their work will have on society. Many Mudd students want to not only understand that impact, but also work to improve the impact they have on their fellow humans.
While they may not agree with everything Facebook does, it looks impressive that a graduate would be willing to work at a company that they may not agree with in order to make everyone’s experience better.
Facebook has quite a bit to improve on, and it’s widely agreed that their executives need to be more open about how they are using their consumer’s data and what they are allowing on their site. Transparency could actually be the key to the beginning of a long process of recovery for Facebook.
Overall, there are good arguments on both sides of this discussion. For students who might be more morally driven, Facebook may not be the right company for them. At the same time, students who subscribe to a bit of altruism may find themselves wanting to help turn Facebook around, which is also to be commended. While there may be fewer Mudd students looking into Facebook, there will still be plenty of graduates for Facebook to choose from.