Two weeks ago Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of FaceBook, dropped what I consider to be an ideological bombshell on the tech industry and on business in general. It doesn’t even matter what the true intentions behind it are. It grabbed attention and dared to change – at least for a little while – the tune of the global business discourse.
Mark’s Global Community^ post is very well written and published at the ideal time to provide maximum PR value. I’m not surprised that some have even seen it as a sort of political statement. I liked how this article^ from The Guardian explores the text.
Perhaps this is indeed the beginning of the age of corporations governing the planet publicly (rather than from the shadows). If it is, I’d definitely have Mark run the show rather than somebody like Trump. I try to keep a balanced tone on this website but even though I can understand why Trump has become the man he is (given the society that shaped him), I do believe it’s healthier to leave his world ideology behind and advance to something more akin to what Mark is envisioning.
Mark’s “manifesto”, as some in the press have called it, is of course rich with positive examples about FaceBook’s achievements. What I really appreciated though is the fact that it acknowledged some serious issues with the website, such as the fact that some people’s posts get censored when they shouldn’t and posts that should be removed are not. Mark’s explanation for this makes a lot of sense: “we’re operating at such a large scale that even a small percent of errors causes a large number of bad experiences.”
Still, FaceBook does censorship. It has a special kind of censorship but it’s still censorship. And I don’t mean this respected author^ getting banned for saying bad things about Trump’s supporters. Perhaps that was a good way to break the circle of insults. What I mean is how FaceBook prevents people from being exposed to other opinions, keeping them inside their comfort zones, blissfully unaware of the storm raging outside. I call this phenomenon ideological clumping. FaceBook engages in this probably because a happy user generates more revenue for the company.
This issue of ideological clumping is addressed in the manifesto so I’m curious how FaceBook will deal with it in the future, especially given the fact that its financial model is based on convincing creatives to pay money in order to get their content in front of their followers. By this I mean how the default follow command on FaceBook only means that a user allows the application’s algorithms to sometimes show posts from a followed person, page or group.
The manifesto also addresses the issue of fake news. The viral spread of misinformation using social media is an intellectual disease that has given Trump more than a few votes – granted, he wasn’t the sole benefactor of this phenomenon. Sadly, this is a problem that Mark & co. will have to work much harder to fix than by writing a goody two shoes manifesto.
Last but not least, FaceBook’s visionary CEO mentions artificial intelligence quite often. Trusting A.I. to do the very hard work of curating content is a risky bet with a lot of unknowns – something he acknowledges, but not strongly enough I think. If A.I. were truly intelligent I’d be more inclined to trust it, but right now, we’re talking about some closed-source (sometimes buggy) algorithms that are controlling the information people are exposed to, not to mention able to shut people up. There’s less intelligence in there than there is manipulation for the advertisers’ interests.
I’m quite sure the company has plenty of ulterior motives when it wants to offer free internet to people. Mark actually made some parallels to television in his text. Well, television was free in many countries if only to make it easier to manipulate the masses. “Connect the world” they say. But FaceBook is not only a tool for change. It’s also an advertisement platform, let’s not forget that. And the kind of product that political parties have to sell is much more dangerous than a brand of bad detergent.
When it’s all said and done, I think that Mark’s step forward volunteering to do what can be done in helping with global problems is a positive example for corporate responsibility. This manifesto was needed and I’m truly happy it’s out there. For this reason, I’m going to give Mark & co. the benefit of the doubt. Let’s see what the future holds. So far, score 1 for FaceBook.
Oh, and one more thing. I am really curious to see how other corporations will respond to this and if they even will. I’m thinking especially about Google, whose “do no evil” mantra 5 to 10 years ago was heading the company towards the same style of social action that FaceBook is doing today. But now-a-days Google’s execs seem even more uninspiring than Microsoft’s.
Today FaceBook has something way more powerful than Google: it has people’s lives, not only their web searches. Combine this with a bright CEO that has a very skilled PR team behind him and you get yourself a serious challenger to tech leadership. If Mark showed anything to these behemoths it’s the fact that in the 21st century a CEO is as much a public figure as any politician and perhaps even more needed.