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Zuckerberg thinks he's cyber-Jesus – and publishes a 6,000-word world-saving manifesto

We took one for the team and deciphered it for you

By Kieren McCarthy, 17 Feb 2017

Comment Whatever Mark Zuckerberg's taking, we want some, too.

Because last night it looks like the Zuck stayed up late with a couple of university freshmen and solved the world's problems, making sure they wrote it down so they didn't wake up in the morning and forget it.

Behold a 6,000-word manifesto from the CEO and cofounder of Facebook that he probably shouldn't have handed in but, you know, when you're utterly filthy rich, every problem looks solvable...

"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?"

So it begins. And the insights just keep tumbling out from there:

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.

At this point every history teacher in history is preparing their red Biro pen because, you know, most history actually comprises people working together to prevent themselves from dying. But let's go with "empowering" themselves for now.

"Today we are close to taking our next step." That's today. It's happening right now and, let's be honest, most of it is happening on Facebook. All those pictures and updates – that is where the real work of humanity is occurring right now.

Of course Zuckerberg isn't an ego-maniac. He knows that an electronic message board is a fun and useful thing but isn't really going to solve the world's ills; issues that have tormented mankind for millennia. That would be...

Our greatest opportunities are now global – like spreading prosperity and freedom, promoting peace and understanding, lifting people out of poverty, and accelerating science.

Okaaaaay...

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.

Maybe he's not talking about Facebook at all. Maybe it's just, you know, a flight of fancy. A thought experiment. A pretty teenagery one, but...

Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community.

Ah, so it appears he really does think that giving people the ability to write about themselves online while making millions selling their personal data to advertisers is going to resolve, you know, poverty and war. Because it really isn't.

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.

We're going to have to skip ahead here before it becomes so vomit-inducing that the keys on this computer – which Facebook doesn't make – get gummed up. To the nub of it:

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?

What institutions? The WTO? The parents-teachers association? Wtf are you talking about, Mark?

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?

Um, support local government by paying your taxes? Get a job at the UN? Where on earth is this going?

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?

OK, we need to skip ahead again.

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.

Is it, though? No, it's not. It's to encourage people to post about their lives as frequently as possible so that can be monetized. Let's be honest, the greatest impact on your life day-to-day almost never comes from something you've seen or read on Facebook. And if it does, you really need to get a life.

Skip, skip, skip.

As we build a global community, this is a moment of truth. Our success isn't just based on whether we can capture videos and share them with friends. It's about whether we're building a community that helps keep us safe – that prevents harm, helps during crises, and rebuilds afterwards.

The job of government? Apparently not.

No nation can solve them alone. A virus in one nation can quickly spread to others. A conflict in one country can create a refugee crisis across continents. Pollution in one place can affect the environment around the world. Humanity's current systems are insufficient to address these issues.

Wait, what was on that square of paper that Mark took last night?

I have long expected more organizations and startups to build health and safety tools using technology, and I have been surprised by how little of what must be built has even been attempted. There is a real opportunity to build global safety infrastructure, and I have directed Facebook to invest more and more resources into serving this need.

And there it is: the Technology Jesus moment. There is no human problem that cannot be solved with the right UI and emoji. Praise the Lord! And the Lord is code!

'We save people's lives'

When someone is thinking of committing suicide or hurting themselves, we've built infrastructure to give their friends and community tools that could save their life.

Actually, just last week a girl killed herself over Facebook Live. People were egging her on. You don't see suicide hotlines do that very often.

When a child goes missing, we've built infrastructure to show Amber Alerts – and multiple children have been rescued without harm.

Actually, laws had to be passed to put the infrastructure in place and Facebook simply rides on top of it, like many other services.

And we've built infrastructure to work with public safety organizations around the world when we become aware of these issues.

Are you not inflating the importance of Safety Check just a teensy, tiny bit? Sure, you can find out that your friends who live in Paris or Nice or San Bernardino weren't murdered, but I suspect that the people digging out bullets and attaching blood bags aren't giving much thought to how lucky they are that all Dave's friends know he's safe and can now Like that post about the cute cat.

A few years ago, after an earthquake in Nepal, the Facebook community raised $15 million to help people recover and rebuild – which was the largest crowdfunded relief effort in history.

Do you have any idea how much relief efforts really cost? The Red Cross, for example, has an annual budget of $3bn. That's 200 times larger and that's just one organization. The UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) has a $5bn budget. Applauding yourself for getting others to stump up $15m is like giving a beggar five cents and expecting them to sing you a song.

Let's move forward again. Quickly.

Since building end-to-end encryption into WhatsApp, we have reduced spam and malicious content by more than 75 per cent.

Not sure where "spam" fits into the goals of "spreading prosperity and freedom, promoting peace and understanding, lifting people out of poverty, and accelerating science," but hey.

Fast forward...

The two most-discussed concerns this past year were about diversity of viewpoints we see (filter bubbles) and accuracy of information (fake news). I worry about these and we have studied them extensively, but I also worry there are even more powerful effects we must mitigate around sensationalism and polarization leading to a loss of common understanding.

Like, for example, confusing making money from people's personal information with actually making the world a better or safer place.

Social media is a short-form medium where resonant messages get amplified many times. This rewards simplicity and discourages nuance.

We're back with the freshman social sciences essay.

At its best, this focuses messages and exposes people to different ideas. At its worst, it oversimplifies important topics and pushes us towards extremes.

To which the answer is, of course, to get off social media and start talking to real people face-to-face in your community and your neighborhood. See their real struggles, understand them as a human rather than a series of carefully curated electronic messages.

Or, we could let Facebook decide for us.

Fortunately, there are clear steps we can take to correct these effects. For example, we noticed some people share stories based on sensational headlines without ever reading the story. In general, if you become less likely to share a story after reading it, that's a good sign the headline was sensational. If you're more likely to share a story after reading it, that's often a sign of good in-depth content.

It's clear this isn't going to get any better.

Silicon Valley is often mocked for living in its own bubble, with individual companies even living within their own bubble inside the bubble (why leave the campus when the food is free?! What's that? A pinball machine?!)

But there's no denying that Facebook, Google at al have a powerful influence on our lives, which is what makes some parts of Zuck's message move from hopelessly naïve to downright creepy.

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 services to recruit for a terrorist organization.

So an organization that the day after it fired its human editors flooded its news feed with made-up and offensive stories is going to start identifying people as terrorists? Because fake news stories is one thing. Labeling people as intent on killing others to make a political point is quite another.

And in the exact same text:

In the tech community, for example, discussion around AI has been oversimplified to existential fear-mongering. The harm is that sensationalism moves people away from balanced nuanced opinions towards polarized extremes.

Because terrorism and the accusation that some people are trying to recruit others into committing it is not a "polarized extreme."

And on to politics.

The starting point for civic engagement in the existing political process is to support voting across the world. It is striking that only about half of Americans eligible to vote participate in elections. This is low compared to other countries, but democracy is receding in many countries and there is a large opportunity across the world to encourage civic participation.

Well, of course, one pretty common way that has a lot of people supporting it is to make voting mandatory – Australia has been pretty happy with the result. That might be a better solution than, um, trying to drive people to the polls using Facebook posts.

Because, let's be honest for a second, there has never been a single voter in the history of the world that has decided that actually they will vote because of that nuanced and well-argued piece on public policy that they read on Facebook (or anywhere else).

In the United States election last year, we helped more than 2 million people register to vote and then go vote. This was among the largest voter turnout efforts in history, and larger than those of both major parties combined.

And yet, what people have noted again and again since the election was that it was one of the most polarizing in modern history and elected a man with no government experience to the most powerful position in the world by dint of him appealing to people's worst natures.

Wake up, Zuckerberg! Wake from your ludicrous childish reverie. You are not the solution. In fact, so long as you maintain this level of delusion over the actual role that Facebook has in people's lives and in society, you are actually a big part of the problem.

We're grading this one a big fat "F." ®

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