This week, Mark Zuckerberg posted a lengthy open letter on his Facebook page about his vision of the company’s future, in which he explained his intention to build a global community.
“For the past decade, Facebook has focused on connecting friends and families,” Zuckerberg wrote. “With that foundation, our next focus will be developing the social infrastructure for community -- for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement and for inclusion of all.”
While Zuckerberg has said that he does not plan to run for political office, much of the letter’s contents would not be out of place in a campaign stump speech.
One the eve of Facebook’s IPO in February 2012, Zuckerberg laid out his plans for investors in a letter that took on similar themes, though was not as detailed.
At that time, Zuckerberg shared his desire to bolster relationships between individuals, writing, “People sharing more -- even if just with their close friends or families -- creates a more open culture and leads to a better understanding of the lives and perspectives of others. We believe that this creates a greater number of stronger relationships between people, and that it helps people get exposed to a greater number of diverse perspectives.”
In his Feb. 16, 2017 letter, he led with the idea of utilizing Facebook to build support systems in real life. “Online communities are a bright spot, and we can strengthen existing physical communities by helping people come together online as well as offline,” Zuckerberg wrote. “In the same way connecting with friends online strengthens real relationships, developing this infrastructure will strengthen these communities, as well as enable completely new ones to form. … These communities don't just interact online. They hold get-togethers, organize dinners and support each other in their daily lives.”
Five years ago, Zuckerberg highlighted Facebook’s ability to connect users to business and the economy, and to help people build better and more engaging products. However, in his 2017 letter he also talked about Facebook’s role to build tools to help make the world a safer and more engaged place. He cited Safety Check, and he described how users have taken to Facebook to fundraise after tragedies such as the 2015 Nepal earthquake.
He discussed developing artificial intelligence systems to remove propaganda from the platform and prevent recruitment for terrorist organizations.
“This is technically difficult as it requires building AI that can read and understand news, but we need to work on this to help fight terrorism worldwide,” Zuckerberg wrote.
He also explained that Facebook intends to prioritize “protecting individual security and liberty,” highlighting the social network’s positive stance on encryption, which is integrated into WhatsApp and Messenger. “Keeping our community safe does not require compromising privacy,” he wrote.
In his 2012 letter, Zuckerberg’s goal was to change how “people relate to their governments and social institutions.” The vision he laid out was somewhat vague, but it centered around the idea that Facebook and the internet at large would create an environment that would allow for “a more honest and transparent dialogue around government that could lead to more direct empowerment of people, more accountability for officials and better solutions to some of the biggest problems of our time.”
But in 2017, in this current political climate, Zuckerberg seemingly felt compelled to be more specific about how he envisions Facebook’s role regarding civic engagement. He described how the platform helped 2 million users register to vote in the 2016 U.S. general election, and how candidates and politicians used the site to engage with their constituents. Again, the CEO cited the platform’s ability to bring users together offline.
“Sometimes people must speak out and demonstrate for what they believe is right. From Tahrir Square to the Tea Party -- our community organizes these demonstrations using our infrastructure for events and groups,” Zuckerberg wrote. “The Women's March is an example of this, where a grandmother with an internet connection wrote a post that led her friends to start a Facebook event that eventually turned into millions of people marching in cities around the world.”
Zuckerberg used the letter to acknowledge mistakes Facebook has made in monitoring and removing content on the platform, citing the removal of videos related to Black Lives Matter and historic images from the Vietnam War as well as the “misclassifying of hate speech.” Zuckerberg characterized these exchanges with users as painful, noting “In the last year, the complexity of the issues we've seen has outstripped our existing processes for governing the community.”
He laid out his idea for developing a system of personalized settings when it comes to what content you see in your feed, proposing the idea of a questionnaire to determine how much users see content containing violence, nudity and profanity. “We are committed to always doing better, even if that involves building a worldwide voting system to give you more voice and control,” Zuckerberg wrote. “Our hope is that this model provides examples of how collective decision-making may work in other aspects of the global community.”