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Is “Re-homing" defining Marissa Mayer and Zuckerberg’s moral compass points?

It is often said that corporations take on the culture and ethics of their leaders (most aptly their founders). Which is why the variant reaction of Facebook and Yahoo to Reuters investigative reporter Megan Twohey’s expose on the use of their sites for “re-homing” unwanted children raises some interesting questions about corporate responsibility, ethics and morals in the new social media driven world.

Twohey spent 18 months examining how American parents use the Internet to find new families for children they regret adopting. Reporters identified eight online bulletin boards where participants advertised unwanted children, often international adoptees, as part of an informal practice that's called "private re-homing."

Now while the “re-homing" name tag may have been updated for the internet age, the practice predates “re-assignment” of British kids in Australia, Cinderella’s dealings with her wicked step mother, Dickens’ horror stories, and even Biblical tales. The Reuters investigation analyzed bulletin board postings and examined almost two dozen cases from across the United States in which adopted children were privately re-homed. Twohey reviewed thousands of pages of records, many of them confidential, from law enforcement and child welfare agencies. In scores of interviews, reporters talked with parents who gave away or took in children, the facilitators who helped them, organizations that participated in re-homing, and experts concerned about the risks posed to the children and the legality of the custody transfers. Twohey also interviewed children themselves. They talked about being brought to America, discarded by their adoptive parents and moved from home to home.

The subsequent Reuters expose details a practice in the U.S. of "private re-homing" of unwanted foreign adoptees and allegations of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of guardians.  While the series itself makes fascinating reading the different response from Yahoo and Facebook when alerted to the details of how re-homing groups and forums on their sites were being utilized is even more eye opening.  After learning what Reuters found, Yahoo acted swiftly.  Within hours, it began shutting down Adopting-from-Disruption, the six-year-old bulletin board. A spokeswoman said the activity in the group violated the company's terms-of-service agreement. The company subsequently took down five other groups that Reuters brought to its attention.

A similar forum on Facebook, Way Stations of Love, remains active. A Facebook spokeswoman says the page shows "that the Internet is a reflection of society, and people are using it for all kinds of communications and to tackle all sorts of problems, including very complicated issues such as this one."

For sure there are legitimate needs and challenges that adoptive parents face and social media provides new and interesting benefits which we should all embrace.  But as with many other areas of our society these also open up new opportunities for those that will prey on the weak and vulnerable.  Business ethics discussions are fraught with pitfalls as to who gets to determine what lines to draw, what is clear however, is that morally, corporations cannot just turn a blind eye to what the majority in our society would determine to be morally reprehensible acts. Perhaps the maturity that comes with motherhood gives Marissa Mayer an advantage over Mark Zuckerberg when it comes to a moral compass, though it’s more likely that those morals run deeper than her recent family expansion.


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