Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a 5,000-word letter yesterday titled “Building Global Community.” The essay clearly took a lot of time, effort, and resources to put together. There’s a ridiculous amount of content to go over, and yet at the same time there really isn’t much that is groundbreaking or even new. Still, I can’t help but conclude one thing: The company is done dipping its toes into politics and is now ready to dive in.
That’s not to say Facebook is going to start swaying elections, forming coalitions, or toppling regimes. It just wants to give people the tools to sway elections, form coalitions, and topple regimes.
The brilliant part of Zuckerberg’s new manifesto is that it could have been written by an outsider. Facebook is already a community of communities. Facebook already plays a role in every type of group you can imagine, and certainly every single one mentioned in the letter. Facebook already fights spam, hoaxes, and racism. Every example given is one of iteration and improvement. In other words, Facebook would have to shut down immediately in order not to deliver on the verbose letter.
There’s no way to fail, because there are no quantifiable goals, promises, or objectives. As long as Facebook continues releasing updates to its algorithms, apps, and various services, it will be helping build supportive, safe, informed, civically engaged, and inclusive communities — the five adjectives its PR team picked. Because at this point, its users are doing the work — Facebook is just running around making sure they don’t screw up the whole platform.
Granted, that’s not an easy feat when you have almost 2 billion users and a business to grow. But as Zuckerberg has shown time and time again, if his driving force was once for money, it certainly isn’t any longer. The billionaire simply wants to keep making a larger and larger global impact — see this sentence in the essay: “As the largest global community, Facebook can explore examples of how community governance might work at scale.”
The area that I hope Facebook really does try to break new ground is with experimentation beyond its core social network. With these internet giants, be it Google or Facebook, one must remember that the company name is the same as its main service’s name. So when Facebook, the company, declares it wants to do more, that doesn’t just mean figuring out how to better filter your News Feed (which is happening regardless).
It (hopefully) means more moves like WhatsApp turning on end-to-end encryption by default. Make no mistake: This post is a political play. That’s why Instagram, which hasn’t done much for politics, is mentioned zero times, while WhatsApp is proudly called out thrice.
I’d love to see Facebook launch new apps and features that don’t merely clone Snapchat, but instill social change in a way that Facebook has not, or cannot. FWD.us is nice, but Facebook has the breadth to activate and collectively push millions of people.
At the very least, go find the latest activist-enabling app, buy it, and blow it up.
ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.