Facebook is, without a doubt, one complicated company. The social media behemoth has begun to take on a much larger presence globally, and their influence on the way people make decisions extends well beyond the internet. With this new reality looming, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been reshaping Facebook’s mission statement, and the results will affect all of us.
A bit of context is needed. Facebook has been using a term recently that is intended to shape the future of the company: global community. As they’ve embraced this multinational, multicultural view of their audience, they’ve discovered that the views of a few thousand people in California may not reflect those of the world at large.
What to do? Zuckerberg’s latest initiative involves allowing the community to set its own standards. In the abstract, this sounds like an interesting experience. What would it look like? It could potentially be a voting tool for everyone on Facebook.
After Zuckerberg wrote a new mission statement of sorts detailing his vision (included below), he sat down with Robert Safian of Fast Company to talk about these changes. The interview is what Fast Company calls a “Long Read,” and they’re not joking. Here’s one piece that stood out, though, regarding how decisions may be made. Zuckerberg states:
“One of the things that we have struggled with recently is how do we have a set of community standards that can apply across a community of almost two billion people. One example that has been quite controversial has been nudity. There are very different cultural norms ranging from country to country. In some places, the idea that showing a woman’s breasts would be controversial feels backwards. But there are other places where images that are at all sexually suggestive, even if they don’t show nudity, just because of a pose, that’s over the line. The question is, in a larger community, how do you build mechanisms so that the community can decide for itself and individuals can decide for themselves where they want the lines to be?”
This is a conundrum, for sure. And it is based on ethnocentric views and shifting notions of morality. Zuckerberg continues:
“This is a tricky part of running this company. In setting the nudity policy, for example, we are not trying to impose our values on folks, we’re trying to reflect what the community thinks. We have come to this realization that a bunch of people sitting in a room in California is not going to be the best way to reflect all the local values that people have around the world.”
This is interesting. Facebook, which allows for the free dissemination of many hateful ideas and images, also prohibits users from using Facebook to sell firearms. Peer-to-peer firearms sales are legal in the United States, yet “a bunch of people sitting in a room in California” have decided it violates the terms and agreements of Facebook, and so cracks down on it.
Fast Company’s picked up on one element of this “who decides” issue.
“And if a part of the global community says, for instance, Jews are not human and they should be put to death, it’s appropriate for that to be reflected on Facebook?”
“Oh, I think there are always going to be lines,” Zuckerberg replied.
“How do you determine where those lines are? Those lines are being drawn by a bunch of people in California also, right?”
“This stuff is never perfect, but I think right now there is a lot of opportunity to improve a lot of people’s experience by creating more of a range. On nudity, for example, child pornography is never going to be allowed. It’s illegal, it’s wrong. So there is not going to be an option for that. But there are different ranges of what someone might think is reasonable to share, and might actually want as part of their experience, and we can open up a broader range of discourse. I don’t think having everyone conform to one line is necessarily ideal, but you are right that there are going to be other forces here.”
So there it is. The global community will get to decide on some things. The easy things, maybe. Controversial political or religious views, what is or isn’t pornography, limits on free speech or constitutionally protected rights, or anything that rubs “a bunch of people sitting in a room in California” the wrong way… in that case, there will “be other forces here.” Just like there are now.
For those interested in reading the entirety of Facebook’s new stance on this, here is the complete letter:
To our community,
On our journey to connect the world, we often discuss products we’re building and updates on our business. Today I want to focus on the most important question of all: are we building the world we all want?
History is the story of how we’ve learned to come together in ever greater numbers — from tribes to cities to nations. At each step, we built social infrastructure like communities, media and governments to empower us to achieve things we couldn’t on our own.
Today we are close to taking our next step. Our greatest opportunities are now global — like spreading prosperity and freedom, promoting peace and understanding, lifting people out of poverty, and accelerating science. Our greatest challenges also need global responses — like ending terrorism, fighting climate change, and preventing pandemics. Progress now requires humanity coming together not just as cities or nations, but also as a global community.
This is especially important right now. Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community. When we began, this idea was not controversial. Every year, the world got more connected and this was seen as a positive trend. Yet now, across the world there are people left behind by globalization, and movements for withdrawing from global connection. 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.
This is a time when many of us around the world are reflecting on how we can have the most positive impact. I am reminded of my favorite saying about technology: “We always overestimate what we can do in two years, and we underestimate what we can do in ten years.” We may not have the power to create the world we want immediately, but we can all start working on the long term today. 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.
For the past decade, Facebook 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.
Bringing us all together as a global community is a project bigger than any one organization or company, but Facebook can help contribute to answering these five important questions:
How do we help people build supportive communities that strengthen traditional institutions in a world where membership in these institutions is declining?
How do we help people build a safe community that prevents harm, helps during crises and rebuilds afterwards in a world where anyone across the world can affect us?
How do we help people build an informed community that exposes us to new ideas and builds common understanding in a world where every person has a voice?
How do we help people build a civically-engaged community in a world where participation in voting sometimes includes less than half our population?
How do we help people build an inclusive community that reflects our collective values and common humanity from local to global levels, spanning cultures, nations and regions in a world with few examples of global communities?
My hope is that more of us will commit our energy to building the long term social infrastructure to bring humanity together. The answers to these questions won’t all come from Facebook, but I believe we can play a role.
Our job at Facebook is to help people make the greatest positive impact while mitigating areas where technology and social media can contribute to divisiveness and isolation. Facebook is a work in progress, and we are dedicated to learning and improving. We take our responsibility seriously, and today I want to talk about how we plan to do our part to build this global community.