February 17, 2017
Mark Zuckerberg says a lot without saying much of anything.
In a nearly 6,000-word manifesto, the Facebook CEO waxes philosophical about coming together as a global community to right the wrongs of the world. And, of course, Facebook is essential to “building the world we all want.”
The letter touches on the role Facebook can play in combating fake news as well as Zuck’s ideas on the use of artificial intelligence (AI). But the key theme in the epic missive is globalization.
“Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community,” Zuckerberg wrote. “When we began, this idea was not controversial. Every year, the world got more connected and this was seen as a positive trend. Yet now, 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.”
Facebook’s role in fostering and encouraging a global community, he said, is to “develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.”
Zuck talks about building an “inclusive community” that reflects “our collective values.”
But what does that even mean? Does Zuckerberg really believe that everyone shares his values and opinions? Does he believe Facebook is key in people coming to an intellectual and philosophical consensus on, well, pretty much everything?
He says Facebook’s job “is to help people make the greatest positive impact while mitigating areas where technology and social media can contribute to divisiveness and isolation.”
“Facebook,” he added, takes its “responsibility seriously, and today I want to talk about how we plan to do our part to build this global community.”
Facebook, he said, can help build supportive, safe, informed, civically-engaged and inclusive communities. Seems like a bit of a tall order, but let’s take a quick look at what Zuckerberg — who insists he has no political aspirations — has to say about accomplishing this.
- Supportive Communities
There has been a massive decline in membership in local groups across all segments of the population — a trend that has sharpened as technology improves.
The answer? Online communities, of course. Here’s what Zuck had to say:
We recently found that more than 100 million people on Facebook are members of what we call ‘very meaningful” groups. These are groups that upon joining, quickly become the most important part of our social network experience and an important part of our physical support structure. For example, many new parents tell us that joining a parenting group after having a child fits this purpose.
There is a real opportunity to connect more of us with groups that will be meaningful social infrastructure in our lives. More than one billion people are active members of Facebook groups, but most don’t seek out groups on their own — friends send invites or Facebook suggests them. If we can improve our suggestions and help connect one billion people with meaningful communities, that can strengthen our social fabric.
He added that:
Our goal is to strengthen existing communities by helping us come together online as well as offline, as well as enabling us to form completely new communities, transcending physical location. When we do this, beyond connecting online, we reinforce our physical communities by bringing us together in person to support each other.
A healthy society needs these communities to support our personal, emotional and spiritual needs. In a world where this physical social infrastructure has been declining, we have a real opportunity to help strengthen these communities and the social fabric of our society.
- Safe Community
Although many threats are global, but the response to these threats is not, Zuck said, adding that communication and the ability to reach people quickly is key to safety.
The Facebook community is in a unique position to help prevent harm, assist during a crisis, or come together to rebuild afterwards. This is because of the amount of communication across our network, our ability to quickly reach people worldwide in an emergency, and the vast scale of people’s intrinsic goodness aggregated across our community.
Looking ahead, one of our greatest opportunities to keep people safe is building artificial intelligence to understand more quickly and accurately what is happening across our community.
We are researching systems that can look at photos and videos to flag content our team should review. This is still very early in development, but we have started to have it look at some content, and it already generates about one-third of all reports to the team that reviews content for our community.
It will take many years to fully develop these systems. 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. This is technically difficult as it requires building AI that can read and understand news, but we need to work on this to help fight terrorism worldwide.
- Informed Community
According to Zuckerberg, an informed community is one with a common understanding, enabling members to work together.
The key to achieving this, Zuck said, is diversity of information and eliminating fake news.
Our goal must be to help people see a more complete picture, not just alternate perspectives. We must be careful how we do this. Research shows that some of the most obvious ideas, like showing people an article from the opposite perspective, actually deepen polarization by framing other perspectives as foreign. A more effective approach is to show a range of perspectives, let people see where their views are on a spectrum and come to a conclusion on what they think is right. Over time, our community will identify which sources provide a complete range of perspectives so that content will naturally surface more.
A strong news industry is also critical to building an informed community. Giving people a voice is not enough without having people dedicated to uncovering new information and analyzing it. There is more we must do to support the news industry to make sure this vital social function is sustainable — from growing local news, to developing formats best suited to mobile devices, to improving the range of business models news organizations rely on.
Connecting everyone to the Internet is also necessary for building an informed community. For the majority of people around the world, the debate is not about the quality of public discourse but whether they have access to basic information they need at all, often related to health, education and jobs.
- Civically-Engaged Community
For society to become engaged, Zuck said two types of social infrastructure must be built: one that encourages engagement in existing political processes such as voting and another that puts in place a process for citizens worldwide to participate in collective decision-making.
Beyond voting, the greatest opportunity is helping people stay engaged with the issues that matter to them every day, not just every few years at the ballot box. We can help establish direct dialogue and accountability between people and our elected leaders.
This creates an opportunity for us to connect with our representatives at all levels. In the last few months, we have already helped our community double the number of connections between people and our representatives by making it easier to connect with all our representatives in one click. When we connect, we can engage directly in comments and messages.
Giving people a voice is a principle our community has been committed to since we began. As we look ahead to building the social infrastructure for a global community, we will work on building new tools that encourage thoughtful civic engagement. Empowering us to use our voices will only become more important.
- Inclusive Community
According to Zuck, inclusiveness must come from the establishment of a new process for people across the globe to participate in community governance.
In the last year, the complexity of the issues we’ve seen has outstripped our existing processes for governing the community. We saw this in errors taking down newsworthy videos related to Black Lives Matter and police violence, and in removing the historical Terror of War photo from Vietnam. We’ve seen this in misclassifying hate speech in political debates in both directions — taking down accounts and content that should be left up and leaving up content that was hateful and should be taken down. Both the number of issues and their cultural importance has increased recently.
This has been painful for me because I often agree with those criticizing us that we’re making mistakes. These mistakes are almost never because we hold ideological positions at odds with the community, but instead are operational scaling issues. Our guiding philosophy for the Community Standards is to try to reflect the cultural norms of our community. When in doubt, we always favor giving people the power to share more.
It’s worth noting that major advances in AI are required to understand text, photos and videos to judge whether they contain hate speech, graphic violence, sexually explicit content, and more. At our current pace of research, we hope to begin handling some of these cases in 2017, but others will not be possible for many years.
Overall, it is important that the governance of our community scales with the complexity and demands of its people. We are committed to always doing better, even if that involves building a worldwide voting system to give you more voice and control. Our hope is that this model provides examples of how collective decision-making may work in other aspects of the global community.
To read Zuckerberg’s letter from start to finish, click here.
Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.