How the mighty have fallen.
Last week, BuzzFeed published a disturbing internal memo written by one of Facebook's vice presidents, Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, which was circulated within the company back in 2016.
In the memo, which is entitled "The Ugly," Bosworth defends Facebook's relentless focus on growth as "de facto good," despite the negative consequences that sometimes result. After outlining some of the positive consequences of connecting more people, Bosworth focuses on "the ugly" side of it all:
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.
In a tweet last Friday, Bosworth published a statement defending the original memo.
My statement on the recent Buzzfeed story containing a post I wrote in 2016 pic.twitter.com/lmzDMcrjv5-- Boz (@boztank) March 29, 2018
"I don't agree with the post today and I didn't agree with it even when I wrote it," the tweet begins. "The purpose of this post, like many others I have written internally, was to bring to the surface issues I felt deserved more discussion with the broader company. Having a debate around hard topics like these is a critical part of our process and to do that effectively, we have to be able to consider even bad ideas, if only to eliminate them."
Although I appreciate Bosworth's goal to make thoughtful debate a part of the decision-making process, there's a major problem with this method of operation, and it can be summed up in a single sentence:
Facebook has destroyed the trust of its users.
Why the trust is gone
Trust is a major key to any meaningful relationship.
We might imagine our relationships as bridges we build between ourselves and others. Any strong bridge must be built on a solid foundation--and for relationships, that foundation is trust. Without trust there can be no lasting connection between people; but with trust, there is motivation to act. If you trust someone is looking after your best interests, you will do almost anything that person asks of you. This principle applies whether we're talking about the connections we form with our colleagues, or those between company and consumer. (I explore this topic fully in my forthcoming book, EQ, Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence.)
But Bosworth's defense of the old memo is the latest in a long line of trust-breakers from Facebook. Bosworth claims that he never believed what he wrote in the memo in the first place. But how do we know that's true?
And further, at what point does playing Devil's advocate turn you into an accomplice?
It certainly sounds like Bosworth believed what he wrote at the time. And it's not that the memo is all bad; fundamentally, Bosworth is simply arguing that Facebook is a tool, and people can use it for better or for worse. But in the memo, he also uses Facebook's goal to connect people as justification for "questionable contact importing practices" (his words), along with "all the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends." (Also his words.)
To build trust, you need to be honest and authentic. These are qualities we hear a lot about in business, but that few truly practice. To be honest and authentic doesn't mean that you must share everything about yourself (or your company), to everyone, all of the time. But it does require saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and sticking to your values and principles above all else.
Honest communication also includes avoiding half-truths and making sure the information you present is done in a way that will not be misinterpreted. Focusing on technicalities, loopholes, and escape clauses may win you a trial in court, but it won't win you anyone's trust.
After Bosworth's memo was made public, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was quick to distance himself from its message. "Boz is a talented leader who says many provocative things," wrote Zuckerberg in a statement to Buzzfeed. "This was one that most people at Facebook including myself disagreed with strongly. We've never believed the ends justify the means."
Many of us may like to believe Zuckerberg. But how do we know if we can trust him?
Because, to be clear, much of the bridge of trust Facebook has worked years to build has already fallen apart.
If Facebook truly wants people to start trusting again, they'll have to start over. And they'll have to do things different this time around. Because while Facebook may have been built on accelerated growth, there's no accelerating trust. It's all about the long game.
I, for one, will be watching.
From a safe distance, of course.