What does the man who single-handedly manages the world's most important technical platform think about the role of that platform in the world?
He thinks it makes the world a better place. Even if it does some damage – usually to people and institutions threatened by its rise.
The first part, of course, is what you'd expect the Facebook CEO to say publicly. But the second part, which Mark Zuckerberg also said today in an interview where he rolled out plans to build a set of audio tools, is kind of a new and important idea.
A little bit, because that's what Zuckerberg and many of his employees – and in fact many Silicon Valley people – have thought and said to each other for a long time, that the things they made were a benefit to society, even if it caused it along the way. also serious problems. That if you weighed everything up, they did more good than bad.
De facto goodAs Facebook director Andrew Bosworth put it in a memo to his colleagues in June 2016.
But Zuckerberg and his team haven't talked in public for so long – especially since Donald Trump's 2016 election, followed by a series of devastating and embarrassing scandals and revelations.
Since then they have been in a defensive squat, making – about- and about- – that they have a lot of responsibility and a lot of work to do. And, not coincidentally, government regulators around the world say they are looking forward to more regulation so they can be even more responsible.
That public stance makes sense in a world where Facebook (along with other major tech companies) is increasingly controlled by lawmakers, and where the users who once celebrated Facebook are now celebrating often resent Facebook
But even though many of his best lieutenants have left in recent years, and despite his rank and file employees often wonder if they are harming the world, it would be weird if the man who built Facebook and still runs Facebook thought Facebook was fundamentally bad.
Zuckerberg doesn't think so. And today we heard him advocate out loud for Facebook, in an interview with tech journalist (and Vox Media contributor) Casey Newton
Specifically, Zuckerberg argued, Facebook and technology like Facebook is good because while it can undermine the old, it helps people – individual people, unlike Big Faceless Authorities – create the new. And, crucially, many people who complain about Facebook and technology like Facebook are afraid of losing power.
It is a way of thinking about the world that used to be common and praised in Silicon Valley and among technologists. It is a mindset that combines the Whole Earth Catalog The Fountainhead and a healthy dose creative destruction
We've heard a lot less of that lately, as the world is taking into account some of the unintended consequences Silicon Valley has brought us over the decades – like giant platforms that can quickly and effectively mislead huge sections of the population about objective reality. But Zuckerberg, it is clear, is still a believer.
Here is the transcript of this part of the exchange between Zuckerberg and Newton:
Casey Newton: You know you run a very polarizing company. Some people, I think, may have given up on the idea that Facebook can be a net positive in the world. So what's the case that you make for yourself every day that it is?
Mark Zuckerberg: I think it's about empowering people. Right, so the question for me is, "Do you believe, at some basic level, that if you empower individuals, it leads to more good?"
And you know, I think we're in a very tumultuous time, and a lot of institutions and the things that have been around for decades – people are losing faith in them. And I think some for good reasons and some not, but that dynamic is really shifting,
And I think a lot of people in those institutions, or who are primarily sympathetic to it, see a shift in the world, as a vision of the future where more individuals have more power and can do whatever they want. , instead of going through those channels – that that's not a good future.
And you know, we tell stories about things like, you know how without traditional information gatekeepers you have things like misinformation, running around rampant – and look, I'm not trying to downplay that, right? I think misinformation is a real problem and I think there must be things that (we) are focused on, on the basic things of dissemination. We invest a lot in that.
But I think when you look at the big arc here, what is really happening is that individuals are gaining more power and more opportunities to create the lives and the jobs they want. And to connect with people who want them. And to connect with the ideas they want and to share the ideas they want. And I just think that will make the world a better place. It will be different from the world we had before. I think it will be more diverse, I think more different ideas and models will be able to exist. And I think it inevitably means that some people who had control of that world in the past are going to lose it, and I could see why those people are going to complain about the direction it's going.
But my concern is that too often we talk about the negative sides of it, from the perspective of the institutions that may not be on the winning side of these changes. Where I think the people who are on the winning side of these changes are individuals you know, whether that's the people who are going to use these tools and share how to connect with the people who want to have all kinds of new experiences . Or this whole new group of people in the creative economy who will now be able to participate in a whole new set of jobs that didn't exist in the past, but that fundamentally enable more creativity in the world.
So I mean I've learned over the years not to be too pollyannish about this. There are real issues that need to be addressed. But my own feeling is that the story is a bit too biased, or perhaps too biased, to tell the negative side of the problems instead of all the value and opportunities that are being created.
Zuckerberg is at least partially right – there are many benefits to technology. And Facebook offers a lot of value to me, and presumably most of the 2.8 billion people who use it worldwide. I also believe he believes he helps people make choices about what they want to do and how they want to do it.
The problem is that Facebook, Inc. is not just a tool that individuals can use. It is a gigantic network that is largely managed without any oversight from the world's citizens and governments. And even if you never use it, it can have huge consequences. See, for example, the evolution of the "stop stealing" movement from Facebook-enabled chat groups into a force behind the Capitol riots.
My suspicion is that this will not be the last time we hear Zuckerberg play the idea that Facebook stands for individual freedom and choice. For one thing, Zuckerberg doesn't do much improvisation in public settings, and this isn't the kind of message he just blurts out. More to the point, if you're under pressure from the public to shrink yourself, in one way or another, because you're too big and inexplicable, it may seem like a good answer to tell the world you're just helping people make their make your own choices. Especially if you believe it.