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The Missouri Miner

Missouri S&T's Student Newspaper
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EST. 1915

Facebook’s Identity Crisis

Updated: Oct 5, 2018

From the time it was founded in 2004, Facebook has evolved from a basic social platform to something used by over 1.9 billion people not only for social purposes, but also as a source of news and entertainment. Until the 2016 Presidential election, Mark Zuckerberg was reluctant to accept that Facebook had a responsibility to ensure the reliability and validity of the news content distributed among its users, but has since ‘apparently’ come around to the idea. On February 16th, he posted a 6000 word manifesto outlining what he feels is the future of Facebook and its role in a globalizing society.

One idea that Zuckerberg repeats over and over in his manifesto is the idea of community. He feels that Facebook has played a role in bringing friends and families together, but he wants Facebook to be able to bring communities together as well. In using the word “community,” Zuckerberg does not just mean a local, geographic area, he wants to also form a global community that aspires to certain societal goals. He lays out five characteristics that his ideal communities would be with the help of Facebook. These five characteristics are the following: supportive, safe, informed, civically engaged, and inclusive.

Part of what Zuckerberg thinks makes communities more supportive are meaningful groups. Groups that gather together for a special purpose, like a group of military families, parents, or people who have a rare disease in common are considered “meaningful groups” because they mean that someone, who would have had to normally do something alone, has support and does not have to do it alone. Zuckerberg plans to make groups like these more accessible through Facebook by giving more tools to those who would potentially start the groups.

While the idea of global communities and communal support is great, the safety of the idea/concept is of some concern. In order to make communities more safe Zuckerberg proposes that Facebook be held more accountable for the content posted on it. He suggests things like using AI to detect and take down terrorist recruitment propaganda, or expanding on existing infrastructure for things like amber alerts and Safety Check. The argument is that when confronted with global problems like terrorism or natural disaster, the response necessary is equally global.

In addition to safety concerns, other concerns surrounding informed communities have surfaced recently, specificity related to users staying and being informed. Facebook’s algorithms have had an unfortunate effect of surrounding people only with the points of view that they agree with. These “filter bubbles” combined with the current ubiquity of fake news makes it very difficult to get any meaningful amount of news from Facebook. Zuckerberg acknowledges this current defect and seems to believe that Facebook should play a part in weeding out these problems.

Zuckerberg has two main suggestions as a means to improve civic engagement. First and foremost, remind people to vote. While it is important to vote, it is also essential to keep users engaged with topics that matter even when there is not a vote being held. He also makes a note of how the most successful political candidates usually have the largest social media presence.

In order for a community to be inclusive, Zuckerberg says that the community and its members must realize that there are many different views held by groups of people using something as massive as Facebook and that it is the responsibility of the service to respect those views. He recognizes that there have been a lot of decisions made to take down potentially offensive material from Facebook, wherein such posts generated a lot of controversy because many people did not find the material offensive at all. In response to this, Zuckerberg is suggesting personalized settings regarding censored material in certain categories. Anything that would be censored, even with the most open settings, will be removed automatically.

After reading through this whole thing, it seems like Mark Zuckerberg is finally realizing the sheer scale of what he has created and it seems like he is somewhat overwhelmed by it all. There are many good intentions expressed in his manifesto and some ideas, but overall it seems like the next steps are still a mystery, even to him. Many news outlets are unhappy with this expression of intentions for one reason or another, but it seems far too early to make a final judgement. All in all, waiting for some concrete actions toward these intentions seems like a much more fair way to judge something this far reaching and important.


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