Photo Credit: picjumbo
It’s clear that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been doing a lot of thinking about the future of the world’s largest social network. On Feb. 16, he released a nearly 6,000-word essay called “Building a Global Community” that has been called a “new manifesto” for where Facebook wants to go next.
While many of the ideas outlined in the manifesto – building communities that are supportive, safe, informed, civically engaged and inclusive – sound like reasonable ideas that nobody could possibly argue with, the manifesto didn’t meet nearly the positive adulation that Zuckerberg clearly expected. One publication called the manifesto a “political train wreck.” And many accused Facebook of trying to politicize the social network. There are three of the aspects of the manifesto that particularly annoyed critics.
Problem #1: The emphasis on globalization
Facebook views globalism as “the next step for humanity.” And, of course, Facebook will be leading the charge when it comes to that globalism. Zuckerberg even goes so far as to suggest that Facebook is building some kind of global community that transcends the modern nation-state. At a time when the world has been convulsed by political elections in the UK and the U.S. that have been primarily been a referendum on globalization, it’s easy to see why going full tilt ahead on globalization could be controversial. Especially because it’s clear that Facebook needs to embrace globalization if it is going to continue to grow at an exponential pace.
Problem #2: The inability to articulate the meaning of “social infrastructure”
Zuckerberg uses the term “social infrastructure” in the essay at least 15 times, but never defines what it is or what it means for Facebook. Here, Zuckerberg appears to view Facebook as a massive technological infrastructure that will unite the entire world. And, instead of being purely technological in nature, this infrastructure is going to be political and social in nature. Does this mean that, in the “failed states” of the world, Facebook is going to be playing a role in providing services normally provided by governments?
Problem #3: Silicon Valley utopian thinking
Zuckerberg views Facebook as central to solving all of the world’s greatest problems – not just bringing prosperity and freedom to all nations around the globe, but also taking on issues like climate change and pandemics. The way to reduce all the divisiveness and isolation in the world, according to Zuckerberg, is more Facebook.
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, of course. That’s how Silicon Valley social media giants are created. And Zuckerberg himself says in the manifesto that it’s important to take the long view: “We always overestimate what we can do in two years, and we underestimate what we can do in ten years.” So this is clearly more of a ten-year plan than any kind of overnight transformation.
What’s next for Facebook?
But it is certainly interesting to consider how Facebook could transform over the next decade. We’ve already seen the company transform from a pure social network into a media company, a technology company and even a type of technological utility that we use without even thinking about it because it’s free.
Clearly, all the accusations that Facebook has turned into a haven for “fake news” and ideological “filter bubbles” has forced Zuckerberg to re-think what the company has already accomplished, and what it plans to accomplish in the future. There’s nobody who would complain about a world that’s more peaceful, more united and more informed – but there’s plenty to complain about if Facebook is the one that’s in charge of creating that world.