Mark Zuckerberg is building Facebook for the next five billion people and the well-being of global society. It’s an incredible ambition.
Facebook’s founder and Mark Zuckenberg set out a vision for Facebook in a 6,000 word essay posted on his newsfeed last week. His goal is bold: to connect everyone in the world via the Facebook platform.
The company has spent 10 years building networks between friends and family. Ketchum has worked with Facebook during this time building communities for organisations and causes.
In the last 12 months Facebook has made the shift into enterprise, connecting co-workers within an organisation through the launch of Workplace. We’ve followed the company at first hand helping our clients develop internal communities as a Workplace partner.
I have huge personal admiration for the democratic and social way in which Zuckenberg leads Facebook.
Teams use Workplace to communicate openly and work beyond borders. Failure is built into the workflow. It learns and iterates quickly.
Zuckenberg himself conducts weekly meetings on a Friday where he’ll answer questions from anyone in the organisation. Questions are submitted via a group, and voted up and down by co-workers.
In his essay Zuckenberg sets out his next challenge.
“Our greatest opportunities are now global – like spreading prosperity and freedom, promoting peace and understanding, lifting people out of poverty, and accelerating science.”
“Our greatest challenges also need global responses – like ending terrorism, fighting climate change, and preventing pandemics.”
It’s a bold ambition. In 2017 it’s also controversial. The narrative of both the UK’s exit from the European Union and President Donald Trump’s administration is one of protectionism and sovereignty.
It’s an issue that Zuckenberg acknowledges, stating that like many others he’s reflecting on how he and his brand can have the most positive impact.
He sets out five questions that strike at the heart of society.
- How do we help people build supportive communities that strengthen traditional institutions in a world where membership in these institutions is declining?
- 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?
- 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?
- How do we help people build a civically-engaged community in a world where participation in voting sometimes includes less than half our population?
- How do we help people build an inclusive community that reflects our collective values and common humanity from local to global levels, spanning cultures, nations and regions in a world with few examples of global communities?
Tackling the fragmentation of society
In his book Bowling Alone Robert Putnam tells the story of how bowling alley attendance is increasing in the US but bowling alley leagues are in decline.
He suggests this is due to a decline in social capital. It’s an issue we’re seeing in almost every area of public life. It’s been an ongoing trend since the decline of heavy industry in the 1970s.
In metropolitan Britain we bowl alone, or in small groups of friends, rather than collectively. Life is becoming more solitary and we’ve lost access to a cross section of society.
Zuckenberg suggests that online communities counter this trend.
“Online communities are a bright spot, and we can strengthen existing physical communities by helping people come together online as well as offline.”
Governance and community standards
The infrastructure created by Facebook can be used for both positive and negative effect. Facebook is a lousy place for argument and debate. It would be a brave person that sought to use them as a means of lobbying.
Zuckenberg doesn’t dodge the issue.
“In the last year, the complexity of the issues we’ve seen has outstripped our existing processes for governing the community. This has been painful for me because I often agree with those criticizing us that we’re making mistakes.”
He acknowledges that building an inclusive global community requires establishing a new process for citizens worldwide to participate in community governance. This could include building a global voting system.
Fake news flooded the platform during both the European Referendum and the US Election is 2016. Facebook’s response is a work in progress.
Analysis by BuzzFeed found that the top fake election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than the top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined.
The current wave of political discourse in Europe and the US has led many people to throttle their newsfeed or simply turn away.
Facebook can be used to expose us to contrary views but you have to work hard to counter filter bubbles and the singularity of the newsfeed.
Supporting people and purpose
Groups organised around an interest or location are informative and inclusive. They are frequently civic minded, informed and supportive.
More than 100 million people on Facebook are members of meaningful groups that quickly become the most important part of our social network experience and an important part of our physical support structure.
Zuckenberg says that more than one billion people are active members of Facebook groups but most don’t seek out groups on their own.
Facebook wants to support leaders and communities with tools to build and manage communities online and offline.
Zuckenberg calls out the tech industry for its limited investment in tools to promote health and safety. He has directed Facebook to invest more and more resources into serving this need.
Facebook’s sheer scale means that the community is in a unique position to help prevent harm, assist during a crisis, or come together to rebuild afterwards.
“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.”
To help during a crisis Facebook has built infrastructure such as Safety Check so we can all let our friends know we’re safe and check on friends who might be affected by an attack or natural disaster.
Safety Check has been activated almost 500 times in two years and has already notified people that their families and friends are safe more than a billion times.
Zuckenberg’s essay is a candid reflection on Facebook’s role in society. He’s frequently critical and acknowledges that there’s work to do.
“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.”
But whatever your view of the platform, and views are polarised, you can’t help but admire his vision and ambition.
Zuckenberg is building Facebook not for the two billion people that use the platform but the five billion that have yet to join with the clear purpose of improving the wellbeing of global society.
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