“The question is do we come together more or reverse course and separate.”
It was pretty clear once I got on the phone last night with Mark Zuckerberg that he has become of late very, how shall we put it, woke.
“No one single event triggered this,” said the Facebook CEO and co-founder in an interview, noting the heightening of ugly political discourse in the U.S. under President Donald J. Trump was not the impetus for a nearly 6,000-word opus on his world view for the social giant’s future that he released today. “I have been thinking about these things for a long time … my views have just become more nuanced.”
But in talking to a very intense Zuckerberg about his letter, which Facebook sources said he penned himself and pushed hard on issues he has largely avoided, his tone is of someone who knows that the solid earth he has been standing on has drastically shifted recently.
He’s been thinking about that a lot lately, he admitted, as the noise around Facebook’s role as a media distributor has grown deafening. “One thing I have been wondering recently is if people misdiagnosed is that the hope for the future is all economic,” said Zuckerberg, who sounds a bit like a man reborn in this politicized age. “But the things that are happening in our world now are all about the social world not being what people need and I felt like I had to address that.”
He can say that again — when I got the very packed and very long letter, which was still in process last night, my one single thought: Jesus.
I guess no surprise either, since the Facebook CEO and co-founder has always been the most earnest of leaders in Silicon Valley, perhaps even its most publicly agonizing, over a range of issues over the years.
But in penning all these words on the future of Facebook and, really, the world, he’s taking one big giant step into another level of rumination that is big and complex and mostly a rat’s nest of controversy for him.
Among the thorny topics that Zuckerberg tried to address in his letter artificial intelligence, fake news, terrorism, polarization of society and online safety.
The letter is also a real neck-snap shift from Zuckerberg’s initial who-us? shrug after the election, as many blamed fake news running rampant on Facebook in part for the election results. Now, he seems to be inching forward to saying that the service has become the way many get their news and information these days and that matters.
Still, Zuckerberg is also trying to thread a very thin needle in distancing Facebook as the cause of all the fake news, “One of the ideas I am focused on is common understanding,” he said. “If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of all misinformation, I would. But people would still use some sets of facts, the true facts, in order to fit whatever bias they have.”
True that, but in acknowledging that Facebook has a big role to play in fixing the problem, he is also tacitly admitting it has been part of the problem.
The question going forward is whether Facebook supports this massive Mark Manifesto — which is precisely what it is — with just money and long letters. Or does it fundamentally change the way it works — as an attention slot machine that turns that attention into money — in order to support the ideas Zuckerberg has outlined.
While, in the interview Zuckerberg argued that it does not have to go that far, if he really thought Facebook did not have some level of responsibility, he wouldn’t be typing so many, many words.
“I think we are at a point right now where a lot of people are asking how they can make the most positive impact in the world,” said Zuckerberg, who said he wanted to put out this new vision most most specifically for employees. “If you want to change the direction and continue to bring the world together,