Leaked Facebook memo defended growth at all costs

The memo had not been previously reported, as Facebook faces inquiries over how it handles personal information and the tactics the social media company has used to grow to 2.1 billion users.
The memo had not been previously reported, as Facebook faces inquiries over how it handles personal information and the tactics the social media company has used to grow to 2.1 billion users.PHOTO: REUTERS

V-P hinted that questionable tactics were all right, but he now says he didn't agree with post

SAN FRANCISCO • Facebook's troubles have worsened with the leak of a two-year-old memo from a high-ranking executive hinting that the social network was determined to grow at all costs, even at the risk of endangering lives.

Mr Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook vice-president considered part of chief executive Mark Zuckerberg's inner circle, wrote in his 2016 memo that some "questionable" practices were all right if the result was connecting people.

Mr Zuckerberg stood by Mr Bosworth while distancing himself from the memo's contents. Mr Bosworth confirmed the memo's authenticity on Thursday but in a statement, he disavowed its message, saying its goal had been to encourage debate.

In the 2016 memo, published by news website BuzzFeed on Thursday, Mr Bosworth urged fellow employees not to let potential negatives slow them down.

"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," he wrote.

Mr Bosworth is known to be an outspoken defender of Facebook, and unabashed in expressing his views. He said in a statement on Thursday that he did not agree with the post today, "and I didn't agree with it even when I wrote it".

 

THE UGLY TRUTH

Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools… The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is de facto good... That isn't something we are doing for ourselves. Or for our stock price (ha!). It is literally just what we do. We connect people. Period.

MR ANDREW BOSWORTH, a vice-president at Facebook.



NOT JUST CONNECTING PEOPLE

We have never believed the ends justify the means. We recognise that connecting people isn't enough by itself. We also need to work to bring people closer together. We changed our whole mission and company focus to reflect this last year.

MR MARK ZUCKERBERG, in his response after the Bosworth memo was reported in the media.

"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," Mr Bosworth's statement said.

In response to an Agence France-Presse inquiry, Mr Zuckerberg referred to Mr Bosworth as a talented leader who says provocative things, the leaked memo among them.

"This was one that most people at Facebook, including myself, disagreed with strongly," Mr Zuckerberg said.

"We have never believed the ends justify the means. We recognise that connecting people isn't enough by itself. We also need to work to bring people closer together."

The memo had not been previously reported, as Facebook faces inquiries over how it handles personal information and the tactics the social media company has used to grow to 2.1 billion users.

Facebook users, advertisers and investors have been in an uproar for months over a series of scandals, most recently privacy practices, that allowed political consultancy Cambridge Analytica to obtain personal information on 50 million Facebook members.

Mr Zuckerberg is expected to testify at a hearing with United States lawmakers as soon as next month.

Facebook has begun to produce documents and wants to be "cooperative" with a New York investigation into the Cambridge Analytica data breach, state attorney-general Eric Schneiderman said on Thursday.

Now the Bosworth memo, even if it was meant solely to get colleagues to grapple with tough issues, hints that Facebook executives were aware of risks associated with connecting and sharing on the social network.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2018, with the headline 'Leaked Facebook memo defended growth at all costs'. Print Edition | Subscribe