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Magazine Issues » October 2018

OPINION: Sharpen your FAANGs

Fiona_RintoulLast week, I deleted my Facebook account. I never really wanted one, but about four years ago, I was ordered on to the great blue social media giant in the cloud by a publisher.

To have an author page, you must have a personal page, and in much the same way that it’s impossible not to look at the headlines in celebrity gossip magazines, even though you know it’s better if you don’t, it becomes impossible not to look at your “friends’” Facebook posts about where they’re going for dinner, what they did on their birthday and funny things that happened in the park when they were walking their dog. Pretty soon, you’re liking these posts, and quite soon after that you start to feel that you must like them. Sandra has posted a picture of her mother, who has just turned 80, when she was 18. Can you seriously not like that? Not to would be remiss, rude even.

Then you start creating your own posts, and for a time all is lost. People like them, and you feel oddly pleased, forgetting that they are only liking them because they feel they must, because you liked their posts, because you felt you must.

Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg is rubbing his hands, calling you a dumbass and shouting: “Kerching.” Personally, I became a little concerned about sharing my data with people who might be doing heavens only knows what with it when it was suggested I might like the ‘Middle-aged Marxists’ group. Sometimes you have the feeling a global corporation knows you a bit too well.

When I told people I was off, the most common response was: “My husband/sister/friend just deleted his/her account too.” This begs the question: does Facebook have a sustainable business model? Many young people seem to be staying away from it, viewing it as a talking shop for the middle aged. And what happens if you subject Facebook – or any of the other giants in the FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) group – to environmental, social and governance (ESG) analysis?

In an article for Funds Europe online, Steven Heim, a managing director at Boston Common Asset Management, raised concerns about Amazon. “If investors look through the lens of ESG management, there are serious issues for the firm,” he said, highlighting its poor labour practices. Perhaps it was always going to be thus. Except for Apple, all these companies have created quasi-monopolies, and anyone who has ridden a train on a privatised rail network knows where that leads.

So, is the FAANG kings’ number up? By no means. But one begins to see cracks, and as more and more professional investors look through that ESG lens, those cracks could widen.

“We believe that the cost of failing the grade on working conditions, labour practices and fair competition will ultimately be felt in [Amazon’s] long-term value,” Heim writes in the recently published article. Consumers, who increasingly look through an ESG lens, may reach similar conclusions. After Netflix reported disappointing second-quarter results, some fund managers predicted a changing of the guard, with smaller companies leading growth.

Companies such as Amazon and Facebook work by getting you hooked – first on one-click simplicity and, second, on fake conviviality. I hesitated to delete my Facebook account because it was the only way I had of contacting several people, till I realised they weren’t friends at all – just people I’d once met.

Perhaps I’ll meet them again. Meanwhile, no need to waste time telling them I liked an article in the New York Times.

Editor-at-large at Funds Europe

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