Facebook has had a tough year. Not only do people keep using Facebook Live to broadcast crimes, but the company is also dealing with its part in the spread of fake news. Not to mention the long-term societal consequences that come from algorithmically keeping people in their own personal happy places, where things that upset or challenge can’t find them. You could put this down to growing pains, but that’s pulling punches a little, given the social network hit one billion active users back in 2012.
Anyway, everything’s going to be alright now, because Facebook has a new mission statement. Compare and contrast the old one:
“To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”
...with the new one:
“To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
There’s a tacit acknowledgement here that “open” is not necessarily desirable. Give people open, and they spread hate speech. Or engage in cyberbullying. Or trade illegal wildlife. Indeed, Facebook was previously so wedded to its open ideals that leaked moderation documents obtained by The Guardian stated that the company “does not welcome local law that stands as an obstacle to an open and connected world,” and would only remove Holocaust denial content from four out of 14 countries where it’s illegal. Openness, it turns out, isn’t a fix-all panacea to all life’s problems. Who knew?
Announcing the change in an interview with CNN, founder Mark Zuckerberg said: “We used to have a sense that if we could just do those things, then that would make a lot of the things in the world better by themselves. But now we realise that we need to do more too. It’s important to give people a voice, to get a diversity of opinions out there, but on top of that, you also need to do this work of building common ground so that way we can all move forward together.”
“A lot of what we can do is to help create a more civil and productive debate on some of the bigger issues as well,” he explained, which should sit well with the company’s adoption of animated GIFs for comments.
Too much was made of Google’s decision to drop “Don’t be evil” from its mission statement, and if anything there’s even less to be read into Facebook’s switching of words: it’s essentially the replacement of one platitude with another. Actions speak louder than words, and the real acid test will be whether we’re still having this conversation about Facebook in a year’s time. With the social network fast closing in on two billion users, it will almost certainly find that tweaking 15 words is far easier than changing behaviour.