Facebook employees were horrified last week by over a leaked 2016 memo from Facebook VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth defending the social network’s aggressive expansion plans. Naturally, since the news media is in a Hate Facebook mode, ever since it was discovered that the social networking giants didn’t just let Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton acquire personal, data from its users: Republicans got some of the “big data” too, the Bosworth memo, nicknamed “The Ugly,” was more fodder to declare Mark Zuckerberg’s baby evil.
It may be evil, but not on the basis of the memo. Here’s what Bosworth wrote:
We talk about the good and the bad of our work often. I want to talk about the ugly.
We connect people.
That can be good if they make it positive. Maybe someone finds love. Maybe it even saves the life of someone on the brink of suicide.
So we connect more people
That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.
And still we connect people.
The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good. It is perhaps the only area where the metrics do tell the true story as far as we are concerned. That isn’t something we are doing for ourselves. Or for our stock price (ha!). It is literally just what we do. We connect people. Period.
That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified. All the questionable contact importing practices. All the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends. All of the work we do to bring more communication in. The work we will likely have to do in China some day. All of it.
The natural state of the world is not connected. It is not unified. It is fragmented by borders, languages, and increasingly by different products. The best products don’t win. The ones everyone use win.
I know a lot of people don’t want to hear this. Most of us have the luxury of working in the warm glow of building products consumers love. But make no mistake, growth tactics are how we got here. If you joined the company because it is doing great work, that’s why we get to do that great work. We do have great products but we still wouldn’t be half our size without pushing the envelope on growth. Nothing makes Facebook as valuable as having your friends on it, and no product decisions have gotten as many friends on as the ones made in growth. Not photo tagging. Not news feed. Not messenger. Nothing.
In almost all of our work, we have to answer hard questions about what we believe. We have to justify the metrics and make sure they aren’t losing out on a bigger picture. But connecting people. That’s our imperative. Because that’s what we do. We connect people.
Anyone who thinks this is a horrible or unethical sentiment doesn’t understand the fallacy of consequentialism, doesn’t comprehend moral luck, and doesn’t understand ethics or the concept of liberty. The section in the memo that has the Left’s new moralists suffering from the vapours is this one:
“So we connect more people. That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.”
That’s not “ugly.” That is a statement of reality, though admittedly one that certain political groups can’t understand, or choose not to accept. The value of tools that expand human power and experience is not diminished because they can be, and predictably will be, misused by some people, sometimes tragically. The nation was built on a basic understanding and embrace of that concept. Recently, a powerful movement has arisen challenging the assertion that personal; liberty is a universal good, on the grounds that liberty can be abused.. Here are some of the parallel and equivalent statements that this group currently challenges, often in angry and demonizing terms:
“So we have freedom of speech. That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it offends someone by licensing racist and sexist speech…”
“So we have the right to bear arms. That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life when some crazy person goes on a rampage….”
“So we have due process. That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe someone who acts weird and seems crazy but hasn’t hurt anyone suddenly runs amuck…”
“So we have a jury system and the high standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it means a racist cop or a jealous football star gets away with murder….”
“So we have a democratic republic. That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe someone get elected President that half the country finds disgusting and frightening…”
Bosworth was right. Facebook’s mission, apart from “Let’s get as rich as possible” , is to advance a societal good. Connecting people is a good thing, with great value. The fact that people may, or will misuse it to unethical ends does not change the ethical nature of the mission in any way.
In the tweet, he insists that he was just raising a problem to be pondered and discussed. Likewise, Zuckerberg has said that he opposes the sentiment in Boz’s memo. These people are cowards, and afraid to stand up for the vital principle that giving people more power and freedom does not become undesirable because irresponsible people may abuse that power and freedom. They won’t challenge the increasingly rights-restricting Left, Facebook’s core constituency.
That is far more disturbing than “The Ugly” memo.