Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook Inc., has always said that his mission is to connect the world. But in a 5,800-word letter published today, the young executive made a detailed case that resistance to globalization is making this mission harder than ever.
“Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community,” Zuckerberg said in his letter. “When we began, this idea was not controversial. Every year, the world got more connected and this was seen as a positive trend.”
But then Zuckerberg highlighted the growing global uncertainty and fear of a wide-open world among a wide swath of people. “Across the world there are people left behind by globalization, and movements for withdrawing from global connection,” he said. “There are questions about whether we can make a global community that works for everyone, and whether the path ahead is to connect more or reverse course.”
Zuckerberg’s letter, which he posted as an update to his original founder’s letter, outlines Facebook’s new focus on building “a global community that works for all of us.” Essentially, Zuckerberg wants Facebook to make globalization a good thing again. This goal, Zuckerberg says, requires what he calls a social infrastructure “for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all.”
The letter — more a manifesto, really — delves into each of these subjects at length, all of which center on the idea of using the global Internet community as a positive force. For example, Zuckerberg noted that Facebook has a number of groups dedicated to building a support community for users suffering from rare medical disorders. He also highlighted supportive groups for black fathers and military family members.
“These communities don’t just interact online. They hold get-togethers, organize dinners, and support each other in their daily lives,” Zuckerberg said.
With regard to building safe communities, Zuckerberg focused less on building a harassment-free zone, as Twitter has been trying to do, and more on addressing real-world safety concerns such as earthquakes, child abduction and terrorism. Obviously these are all tough challenges to tackle, but Zuckerberg noted that Facebook’s work on artificial intelligence could make a difference.
“Right now, we’re starting to explore ways to use AI to tell the difference between news stories about terrorism and actual terrorist propaganda so we can quickly remove anyone trying to use our services to recruit for a terrorist organization,” Zuckerberg said. “This is technically difficult as it requires building AI that can read and understand news, but we need to work on this to help fight terrorism worldwide.”
The fake news problem
Propaganda is not the only fake news problem Facebook has been dealing with, and Zuckerberg also noted in his letter that the social network is going to focus on building better-informed communities. Of course, that is easier said than done, and the Facebook CEO admits that there is no simple solution.
“Research shows that some of the most obvious ideas, like showing people an article from the opposite perspective, actually deepen polarization by framing other perspectives as foreign,” Zuckerberg said. “A more effective approach is to show a range of perspectives, let people see where their views are on a spectrum and come to a conclusion on what they think is right. Over time, our community will identify which sources provide a complete range of perspectives so that content will naturally surface more.”
When it comes to outright hoaxes, Zuckerberg claims that Facebook has made good progress, but he added that “there is not always a clear line between hoaxes, satire and opinion.”
Zuckerberg also wants to make Facebook a destination for “civically-engaged” communities, with users who participate in politics both locally and globally. He noted that this process begins with Facebook supporting voting around the world, and he highlighted the social network’s recent efforts in the American presidential election, claiming that Facebook helped more than 2 million people register to vote.
“In every election around the world, we keep improving our tools to help more people register and vote, and we hope to eventually enable hundreds of millions of more people to vote in elections than do today, in every democratic country around the world,” Zuckerberg said.
‘We’re making mistakes’
Finally, Zuckerberg said Facebook wants to build a more inclusive community that brings its users into the decision-making process for the social network. This includes looping users into decisions made regarding the removal of controversial material from the site, something for which Facebook has been criticized again and again.
In particular, Zuckerberg highlighted “errors” made in removing newsworthy content related to Black Lives Matter, as well as removing the famous “Terror of War” photo that shows a nude child suffering from the effects of napalm during the Vietnam War.
“This has been painful for me because I often agree with those criticizing us that we’re making mistakes,” Zuckerberg said. “These mistakes are almost never because we hold ideological positions at odds with the community, but instead are operational scaling issues. Our guiding philosophy for the Community Standards is to try to reflect the cultural norms of our community. When in doubt, we always favor giving people the power to share more. ”
Zuckerberg’s letter has already received significant attention, with nearly 2,000 comments on Facebook alone. Many responses were positive, including a few obligatory posts by current and former Facebook employees, but there were also quite a few that questioned Zuckerberg’s motives in pushing globalization.
Of course, as with any post by Zuckerberg, many users took the letter as an opportunity to voice their complaints about Facebook, including concerns with privacy and censorship.
“If you really keep it free and allow all sides to speak, I’m all for it, but if you try to silence one side in favor of the other, you’re being disingenuous,” said one Facebook user.
If you have patience and time, you can read Zuckerberg’s full-length letter here.