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

'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." ®

Sponsored: Detecting cyber attacks as a small to medium business

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR WEEKLY TECH NEWSLETTER


Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020