Mark Zuckerberg has written a long-winded riposte to criticisms of Facebook and growing anti-globalization sentiment.
The 6,500-word manifesto, posted to his Facebook page, outlines the challenges faced by the world and the measures that Facebook can take to address them. From climate change and pandemics to terrorism and inequality, Zuckerberg has a plan – albeit a vague one – for building what he considers a better future.
For someone who claims he doesn’t want to run for president, it sure reads like a state of the union address.
Zuckerberg’s plan appears to align with Facebook’s mission statement to give people the power to share and make the world more connected.
“Progress now requires humanity coming together not just as cities or nations, but also as a global community,” he said.
“Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community. When we began, this idea was not controversial. Yet now, across the world there are people left behind by globalization, and movements for withdrawing from global connection.”
Throughout the entire letter, Zuckerberg avoided making reference to the divisive policies of Donald Trump and Brexit, instead making vague references to building community and decreasing polarization.
Having spent a decade focusing on connecting individuals, the CEO says that Facebook is now shifting its focus to “developing the social infrastructure for community – for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all”. No biggie.
For each of those five areas of focus, Zuckerberg discusses what Facebook has achieved and how it can do more.
With regard to building supportive communities, Zuckerberg describes a “striking decline in the important social infrastructure of local communities” which can be addressed through “meaningful” Facebook groups – those that people join and use very actively on and offline, for example parenting groups.
On the safety front, Zuckerberg talks about its deployment of amber alerts to rescue kidnapped children as well as Facebook features like safety check, where users can alert loved ones that they are safe in the case of an attack or natural disaster. At the same time, the social network has been used to live stream suicides and document torture and bullying.
He argues that in the future Facebook will be able to use artificial intelligence to detect such content to flag to moderators before a user reports the content.
“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 service to recruit for a terrorist organization,” said Zuckerberg.
He dedicated 1,000 words to talking about the spread of information on Facebook, including so-called “fake news” and sensational click-baity headlines, all of which – when amplified by Facebook’s algorithms – are leading to increased polarization.
“If this continues and we lose common understanding then even if we eliminated all misinformation, people would just emphasize different sets of facts to fit their polarized opinions. That’s why I’m so worried about sensationalism in media.”
Facebook is cutting down on the spread of sensationalism in the News Feed by checking if people are reading the article before sharing. If they are, those stories will get more prominence in the news feed.
Zuckerberg pledged to support the news industry – whose advertising revenue is being slowly eaten by Google and Facebook – to make sure it continues to uncover and analyze new information.
In the “civically-engaged community” section, Zuckerberg talks about how to get more people to engage in the civic process and participate in collective decision-making.
Facebook is developing tools to remind people to register to vote, connect with local representatives and organize protests, such as the Women’s March, which started life as a Facebook post.
The final section deals with Facebook’s community standards, which are heavy-handed and don’t take into account much cultural or political nuance. For this reason there have been a number of high-profile blunders including the censorship of an iconic Vietnam War photo and the takedown of newsworthy Black Lives Matter videos.
“These mistakes are almost never because we hold ideological positions at odds with the community, but instead are operational scaling issues.”
Facebook said it plans to evolve its community standards so that they are more personalized and locally relevant – for example Europeans are on the whole more accepting of nudity than Americans or some Middle Eastern communities.
Working out what people are comfortable with in different places will involve a combination of “creating a large scale democratic process to determine standards” with “AI to help enforce them”.
This means that individuals can choose their preferences for violence, nudity and profanity and their experience of the social network will adapt accordingly.
He notes that “major advances in AI” would be needed to understand text, photos and videos and judge if they contain hate speech or sexually explicit content, but that some of this will be possible in 2017.
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