Mark Zuckerberg, in response to recent world events including the election of President Trump, on Thursday released a 6,000-word manifesto explaining how exactly Facebook will change to become a better company.
The letter is a thorough outline for what Zuckerberg will push Facebook to become over the next few years. It touches on five main topics: how Facebook can support communities; how it can keep people safe, informed, and civically engaged; and how it can make its platform a place where all will feel included. It's a broad and ambitious mission.
It's also a mission that has changed from simply connecting people to better managing how those humans interact after they've been connected.
The letter highlights many of the reasons why Facebook is one of the world's premier companies and why Zuckerberg is an excellent leader. Zuckerberg is willing to reinvent his company, give his team a vision, push them to innovate, and create new and better products.
However, the letter also demonstrates one of the worst parts about Facebook, which is just how often the company ignores its critics. Many of the issues that Zuckerberg addresses in his letter are problems that people have pointed out to the company for years.
Take terrorism. Since 2015, politicians and government officials have urged Facebook and the tech industry to do more to help fight terrorist propaganda. These days, individuals who lack direction are easily becoming radicalized by groups like ISIS and white supremacists that reach them through channels like social media.
Take censorship and harassment. This is another area where critics say Facebook has failed its users time and again. Often, the company will take down important pieces of content, such as the Terror of War photo, due to community policies that do not work. This is why so often you'll read a story about how Facebook has censored a user for a nonsensical reason, when all someone was doing was sharing a photo of herself breastfeeding or exposing an elbow.
Take the matter of how Facebook treats news and the media. For years, academics, journalists, political observers, and others have noted that the news bubbles people build for themselves on social media are a huge problem for society. People trap themselves within echo chambers where the only news articles they see on their Facebook feeds are the ones that simply reinforce, rather than challenge, their beliefs.
And, more specifically, take the matter of fake news. Facebook ignored this issue until after the 2016 U.S. election. Then, Zuckerberg's reaction was to dismiss as ludicrous the idea that fake news on his service could have negatively influenced voters.
Finally, after a long 2016, Zuckerberg and Facebook are committing themselves to fixing all of these issues.
Facebook promises it will build better A.I. technology to fight terrorist propaganda without censoring news about terrorists. It says it will install new personalized content policy tools so users can control the type of content they receive. It pledges to identify news sources that provide a broad range of perspectives. And Facebook says it will reduce the number of sensationalist and fake articles in its news feed and instead highlight well-reported, in-depth articles.
It is great that Facebook and Zuckerberg have finally listened to these concerns, thought about them, and come up with smart and daring solutions.
But if there's one thing Facebook has not yet solved it's how to better take criticism and use it to more efficiently improve its social network. Perhaps that is something Zuckerberg and company can work on next.