What are the ethics of an artificial entity–that is, a publicly-traded corporation? We can call the owner of a business a jerk, so why can’t we call an artificial thing like Twitter a jerk?
Publicly traded corporations are not owned by anybody. Or rather, they are owned by whoever owns stocks, and if it’s publicly traded, that means anyone can buy stock. Most such stocks are traded by computers, and most of the stocks are not held by individuals but instead are in retirement accounts and “diversified portfolios” where, typically, no one really knows all the stocks in the account except whoever runs the retirement account.
What this means is that publicly traded corporations like Twitter are effectively owned by no one. They exist solely as a legal fiction, but one that continues to do things that have real-world consequences for countless people.
In most countries, it is understood that such entities, effectively owned by no one and thus having no real accountability, are an artificial construct of the state that is there at the state’s convenience as well as the convenience of investors–but not necessarily at the convenience of customers.
It also used to be understood because of this last part–caring only about customers indirectly–that corporate entities have a duty to behave a certain way that is ethically acceptable to most people.
I will never understand those who retreat to “market” answers as if putting limits on corporate power is automatically Communism. Twitter at the moment is behaving very badly. It has banned Robert Stacy McCain, whose friends all call him Stacy. The Twitter hashtag #FreeStacy should even be trending at the moment, but Twitter has quashed it so people don’t see it. Twitter has allowed itself to be taken over by a well-known feminist ideologue who Stacy criticized.
Notice how I keep saying “it” did this. Because Twitter is a corporate entity whose human parts are all replaceable.
Is it ever OK to start asking what moral and ethical behavior looks like in a business, especially a business that owns such a large amount of the internet’s mindspace? Does it not have a duty to act in the public interest on things like political speech? If not a legally enforced one, surely one a duty we all recognize as an ethical one?
Twitter’s actions are unethical and deplorable. That’s what we should be saying.
In any case, #FreeStacy McCain!