It was a difficult 2016 for Facebook, with having to deal with a string of controversies regarding their involvement in the censorship of historical photos, apparent imperialism in India and blunderingly live streaming footage of human rights violations. In November, the social network was even accused of influencing the outcome of the US presidential election through failing to combat the mass of misinformation that spread, and no doubt continues to do so, throughout the final months of the year.
Following this, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has penned a rather lengthy (5,700 word) manifesto that both responds to anti-globalisation criticisms and outlines how the site will aim to address challenges continually being faced by the world. This includes everything from inequality to terrorism and even full-blown pandemics which certainly seems like a tall order for someone who not long ago shut down all rumours that suggested he wished to run for President.
Facebook’s mission statement outlines the idea to give people the power to share and express what matters to them while keeping them connected with the world. This is something that Zuckerberg details in his manifesto, stating that he wishes to see progress in humanity via the coming together of a whole global community.
“Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community. When we began, this idea was not controversial. Yet now, across the world there are people left behind by globalization, and movements for withdrawing from global connection.”
Zuckerberg makes no reference throughout the letter to any issues regarding Trump or Brexit but instead stressed his desire to focus on “developing the social infrastructure for community – for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all.” He then details how Facebook has already taken steps to improve these five areas and what the site can do to improve even more. In regards to the building of supportive communities, he referred to “meaningful” Facebook groups that people use actively. Safety-wise, he stressed the Safety Check feature that allows users to update their loved ones on their safety status in the event of an attack wherever they may be.
Another reason for the backlash of criticism Facebook received last year was due to an American teenager reportedly live-streaming their own suicide on the site. The site was unable to pick up the harmful content of the video and it was down to viewers to report it before it was eventually removed. 1,000 words of Zuckerberg’s manifesto detail the site’s aims to work together with Artificial Intelligence in such a way that will detect potentially harmful content so that it can be quickly removed. This will also combat the use of Facebook for terrorist propaganda and “fake news” which Zuckerberg claims has led to such high polarization.
“If this continues and we lose common understanding then even if we eliminated all misinformation, people would just emphasize different sets of facts to fit their polarized opinions. That’s why I’m so worried about sensationalism in media.”
There will soon be a stop on the sensationalism so often found in Facebook news feeds by checking if people are reading the article before they share it. Zuckerberg also highlighted the importance of civil engagement and how the site’s developers are beginning to work on tools that will remind people to register to vote, organize protests (the Women’s March on Washington began as a Facebook post) and connect with their local representative. There are also plans to change Facebook’s community standards to more accurately represent the beliefs of different places. Through this feature, users will be able to change their preference when it comes to things such as nudity, violence and profanity.