FINALLY, SOMEONE IS giving a voice to the voiceless. No, not the voiceless two billion people that use Facebook, but the fifth richest person in the world, CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In an op-ed granted by the Wall Street Journal, Zuckerberg finally got to share his side of the story: why Facebook is great, and you would agree if you just understood how it works.
Zuckerberg begins by explaining that to give people a voice, he needs to offer a free service, and that means ads. "People consistently tell us that if they're going to see ads, they want them to be relevant," he writes. "This model can feel opaque, and we're all distrustful of systems we don't understand," he continues - but don't worry, Zuckerberg is here to make it all clear. Or less opaque, in any case.
"Sometimes this means people assume we do things that we don't do. For example, we don't sell people's data, even though it's often reported that we do," he continues as the world's smallest violin plays in the distance. "In fact, selling people's information to advertisers would be counter to our business interests, because it would reduce the unique value of our service to advertisers." Hmm. We're not sure renting data is much better than selling it, but what do we know - we're not worth $54 billion, after all.
Zuckerberg goes on to argue that the company doesn't intentionally surface "clickbait and other junk" in its feeds ("it would be foolish for us to show his intentionally, because it's not what people want") or leave up "harmful or divisive content" even if "it drives engagement." That, he explains, would be a bad move as "advertisers don't want their brands anywhere near it" - although that assumes said advertisers can see the context of every ad they place, which of course they can't.
"There's no question that we collect some information for ads - but that information is generally important for security and operating our services as well." Hmm: the word "generally" seems to be doing an awful lot of heavy lifting in that sentence, especially as the company is still facing accusations that it tracks people who don't (yet?) have Facebook accounts.
"For us, technology has always been about putting power in the hands of as many people as possible," Zuckerberg concludes, 1,000 fluffy words later. "If you believe in a world where everyone gets an opportunity to use their voice and an equal chance to be heard, where anyone can start a business from scratch, then it's important to build technology that serves everyone. That's the world we're building for every day, and our business model makes it possible."
Perhaps the content is actually less interesting than the location. Contrary to Zuck's big words about Facebook offering an equal chance to be heard, it's telling that he chose to publish his own thoughts on the Wall Street Journal. And although he ultimately cross-posted the message to his Facebook wall (which must delight the paper's paywall team), that suggests the message is more to assure investors and politicians after a very rocky year than to placate site users.
So as timing goes, it's unfortunate that this charm offensive comes at the same time that Facebook was forced to unseal documents from between 2010 and 2014 which seem to show a company knowingly duping children into paying for games on parents' stored credit cards, and then refusing refunds.
The above link is worth reading in full, if you're comfortable with terms like "friendly fraud" and children being described as "whales" - a term used by casinos to describe high-spending gamblers.
That's all part of building "technology that serves everyone", we guess. Everyone, but especially Facebook. µ
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