Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg published a manifesto of some five-thousand plus words entitled Building Global Community. The post is worth the full read (it’s not that long) and certainly seems to be a long-term response to the frightening trends of xenophobia and other -isms being promoted by the current U.S. president. Zuckerberg breaks his thoughts (and vision for Facebook and Facebook-owned companies) into five sections, denoted by the icons above: Supportive Communities, Safe Community, Informed Community, Civically-Engaged Community, and Inclusive Community.
These are well-spoken and important points, and in the spirit of holding those with power (including Mr. Zuckerberg) accountable, Facebook needs to step up and take a bit more direct ownership in being part of the problem in the first place. Then, absolutely, help be part of the solution.
- Mr. Zuckerberg notes problems on Facebook with “fake news” and “bubbles” in the Informed Communities section of his post. This is appropriate, and he goes on to talk about what Facebook is doing the address the problem. A step further, however, would be to acknowledge that the Facebook Algorithm has responsibility in creating the problem. A system which is designed to only keep people in Facebook will create ill – if unintended – consequences. Mr. Zuckerberg noticed that people were sharing sensationalistic, misleading and often false information on Facebook, because that was rewarded by the Facebook Algorithm.
- The Civically Engaged section is another area where the credibility of the Facebook message would be stronger if Mr. Zuckerberg acknowledged Facebook’s own role in artificially depressing Page posts in favor of other content on Facebook. Facebook users who wish to be more engaged may have chosen to like trusted nonprofit pages on Facebook. They most likely expected to actually be able to read posts from those pages they follow in the Newsfeed. Pages anywhere from the American Civil Liberties Union to a local refugee relocation program are intentionally steered away (though a determined user can take steps to see nonprofit pages). Changing the algorithm to allow charities an even chance of engagement as the latest cat video would go a long way to addressing this problem.
- Mr. Zuckerberg deserves credit for the nuanced, adult conversation he has in the Inclusive Community section. He again acknowledges here that Facebook’s automated systems have failed, but takes ownership for that and explains reasonably why this may have been so. Here again, however, treating charities as allies and allowing them full-access to the newsfeed would help correct this problem faster. Nonprofits have expertise and understanding, and can call out these errors and get them corrected more quickly. Think of it as a distributed quality-control check. Distributed work is what the internet does, after all. Facebook should take advantage of nonprofit allies rather than suppressing them.
This is a positive step forward, and charities should welcome the intent and be public in their partnership to create better communities. Despite the flaws of the past, if Facebook is willing to make changes, it will find many nonprofit partners as part of a solution.