Facebook as a Force for Common Good

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

On February 16, 2017, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s 32-year-old CEO, finally updated his company’s five-year-old mission statement. The sprawling 5,000-word manifesto officially rebranded Facebook (FB) as a force for the common good and sparked rumors about a possible bid by Zuckerberg for the 2020 US presidential race. “For the past decade, FB has focused on connecting friends and families. With that foundation, our next focus will be developing the social infrastructure for community — for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all,” said Zuckerberg.

The company, which initially started with the simple aim of connecting people, has 1.86 billion (half of the world’s internet users) customers. FB has enabled people to do more than keep in touch with friends and family. Right from the Arab Spring protests in 2011 to the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, people used FB to share information, rally people and drum up support for their causes. The social media giant also acknowledges its power and no longer pretends to be a mere lifestyle platform.

In his a-la-state of the union address, Zuckerberg laid out a template for FB’s role in the new world order, which is marked by populism and protectionism. Brexit and the US President’s “America first” rhetoric, which is echoed throughout Western Europe, poses a challenge for networks like FB, which are founded on the premise that the world is one huge community. “In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us,” said Zuckerberg. His plan is to build a supportive, safe, informed, civically-engaged and an inclusive global community through FB, of course!

Since it launched, FB has been chastised for some of its actions. The most notable is the kerfuffle over the spread of fake news on the platform, which many believe propelled a populist, anti-immigration person to the White House. When a post by a Black Lives Matter activist was temporarily blocked, Zuckerberg’s PR machinery went on overdrive to convince the public the company is not racist. The censorship of an iconic Vietnam war photo was a watershed moment that forced FB’s founder to write an exhaustive treatise to his employees. In his letter, Zuckerberg acknowledges these past mistakes and pledges to make amends. “These mistakes are almost never because we hold ideological positions at odds with the community, but instead are operational scaling issues,” he said. In the treatise, Zuckerberg offered few specifics expect for the following:

  • Build more meaningful groups.
  • Improve community safety by building products like safety check (a tool that allows people to mark themselves safe during crises).
  • Use AI to distinguish 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.”
  • Minimize sensationalism by ensuring people read the articles before sharing them.
  • Allow users to choose their preferences for violence, nudity and profanity.

Though a sketchy blueprint, the mission statement was a public acknowledgment that the social network faces new challenges in its goal to become a force for the common good. It also raises the uncomfortable truth of corporate greed as the letter at its core is about FB’s desire to expand its user base and enrich its treasury.

It’s too soon to evaluate FB’s grand plan but if history is an indicator, then one can safely say the company needs to up the ante to build a better future for all of us. But we must also debate if we want FB, a corporate entity, to build this future, which is largely the role of governments.



Nithya Caleb | The Edge Blog


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