Facebook aims to be a bulwark against rising isolationism

Facebook's Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has laid out a vision of his company serving as a bulwark against rising isolationism.
The question, Mr Zuckerberg says, is whether "the path ahead is to connect more or reverse course", adding that he stands for bringing people together. He feels Facebook could be the "social infrastructure" for the globe.
The question, Mr Zuckerberg says, is whether "the path ahead is to connect more or reverse course", adding that he stands for bringing people together. He feels Facebook could be the "social infrastructure" for the globe.PHOTO: REUTERS

Zuckerberg's manifesto makes case for bringing people closer together and building a global community

SAN FRANCISCO • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has laid out a vision of his company serving as a bulwark against rising isolationism, writing in a letter to users that the platform could be the "social infrastructure" for the globe.

In his 5,700-word manifesto, Mr Zuckerberg, founder of the world's largest social network, quoted Abraham Lincoln, the president during the 19th-century civil war in the United States who was known for his eloquence, and offered a philosophical sweep that was unusual for a business magnate.

Mr Zuckerberg's comments on Thursday came at a time when globally, many people and nations, are taking an increasingly inward view. US President Donald Trump pledged to put "America first" in his inaugural address last month. That followed Britain's decision last June to exit the European Union.

"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 globalisation, and movements for withdrawing from global connection," Mr Zuckerberg wrote, without naming specific movements.

STAYING POSITIVE

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 globalisation, and movements for withdrawing from global connection.

MR MARK ZUCKERBERG, founder of Facebook, writing in his 5,700-word manifesto titled Building Global Community.

The question, the chief executive said, was whether "the path ahead is to connect more or reverse course", adding that he stands for bringing people together.

Quoting from a letter Lincoln wrote to Congress during the depths of the civil war, Mr Zuckerberg said in his letter to Facebook's 1.9 billion users: "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present."

The 32-year-old CEO also said Facebook could move far beyond its roots as a network for friends and families to communicate, suggesting that it can play a role in five areas, all of which he referred to as "communities", ranging from strengthening traditional institutions and providing help during and after crises, to boosting civic engagement.

In comments on Facebook, some users praised Mr Zuckerberg's note for staying positive, while others declared "globalism" dead.

Facebook has been under growing pressure to more closely police hoaxes, fake news and other controversial content, although the concerns have had little impact on its finances. The company has reported 2016 revenue of US$27.6 billion (S$39 billion), up 54 per cent from a year earlier.

One area where Facebook would do better, Mr Zuckerberg wrote, would be in suggesting "meaningful communities". Some 100 million users are members of groups that are "very meaningful" to them, he pointed out, representing only about 5 per cent of users.

Facebook is also using artificial intelligence more to flag photos and videos that need human review, Mr Zuckerberg noted. One-third of all reports to Facebook's review team are generated by artificial intelligence, he said.

Mr Zuckerberg's letter was "a bit more ambitious and a bit more of the 30,000-foot view than I see from most tech company CEOs", said Mr Peter Micek, global policy and legal counsel at Access Now, an international digital rights group.

But Mr Zuckerberg stayed away from certain subjects on which Facebook could be vulnerable to criticism, mentioning the word "privacy" only once, Mr Micek noted.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2017, with the headline 'Facebook aims to be a bulwark against rising isolationism'. Print Edition | Subscribe