That’s the type of coincidence I like: Just a few days after I opened a blog post with the rhetorical question about what’s keeping Mark Zuckerberg up at night, the Facebook CEO published an extensive open letter titled “Building a global community”, offering a few hints (reading time according to Instapaper: 23 minutes).
In what certainly must be called a “manifesto”, Zuckerberg offers his view on why globalization is experiencing a backlash and outlines on which principles Facebook will attempt to help tackling these issues.
Significant self-criticism is (unsurprisingly) missing. The text lacks any sincere acknowledgements of possible direct causations between certain unfortunate global trends and the rise of Facebook – which grew from 0 to almost 2 billion active members within only a bit more than 10 years.
While that leaves the question unanswered whether Zuckerberg silently would have doubts about the role of his company, he certainly tries hard to express inclusive, empathic thoughts and honest concerns about polarization, sensationalism in news and other contemporary unpleasantries. There is little reason to question that he indeed believes his vision of utilizing Facebook to make people get along with each other – even if it currently looks more as if the opposite is happening.
Irrespective of whether he will be right or not in the long run, I found an unarticulated (and possibly not intentional) hidden confession in the letter: Satisfying everyone across ideological, cultural, geographical, religious and legal borders within one platform that connects everyone is like attempting to square a circle. But Facebook will try anyway:
“The guiding principles are that the Community Standards should reflect the cultural norms of our community, that each person should see as little objectionable content as possible, and each person should be able to share what they want while being told they cannot share something as little as possible. The approach is to combine creating a large-scale democratic process to determine standards with AI to help enforce them.”
What also becomes apparent is how Zuckerberg considers the company increasingly taking on a global political role:
“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”
He might downplay his own political ambitions, but with the power and influence that Facebook has accumulated, there is little else the company can do than to embrace this power. Even though everything Facebook does happens outside of the democratic process, of course.
But who would really rule out that one day Facebook might install some kind of expert advisor committee whose members get elected by the Facebook community? Or maybe even an elected global political ambassador who’ll act as the main negotiator in talks with national and international political bodies, holding permanent seats in inter-governmental political forums? I wouldn’t. The signs that tech companies are becoming rivals to nation states have been written on the wall for a while already. The letter is a friendly reminder.
If you fancy a polemic take on Zuckerberg’s manifesto, you might want to read this: Zuckerberg thinks he’s the cyber-Jesus.
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