Fast Company just scored a sit-down with Mark Zuckerberg, and in the interview they discuss the 32-year-old Facebook CEO's 6,000-word mid-February open letter about building a global community, whether or not money is the company's main motivator now, and how he plans to continue to address the issue of misinformation and fake news proliferating on the platform.
Unfortunately, Fast Company's interviewer, Robert Safian, doesn't really press Zuck on this latter point the fact that Facebook has become, without fully acknowledging it, a media company in its own right, and the more it tries to deny this the more it can be used as a proliferator of alternative facts, gossip, and hearsay that masquerades as fact.
But, below, some pullquotes from the interview in which Zuckerberg stands behind the company's mission to continue "giving the most voice to the most people" on the planet, and defends all of Facebook's issues over the last year as results of it being still "a work in progress."
You know, we talk about connecting everyone in the world and that is far from complete. We are almost at two billion people [at Facebook], out of more than seven billion in the world, so from our perspective we are earlier on in this than later. If you look at the arc of human history, hundreds of thousands of years, it is a story of how people have learned to come together in bigger numbers to do things that we couldn’t do separately. Whether that’s coming together from tribes to building villages, or building cities into nations, it has required social infrastructure and moral infrastructure, things like governments or media or religion, to enable people to work together.
When you’re talking about spreading freedom or trade, or you’re talking about fighting terrorism, where a civil war in one country leads to refugee crises across multiple continents, these are not typically problems any one country has the tools by itself to go solve. I think we have a responsibility as a technology company at a pretty big scale to see what we can do to push on that.
I think Facebook has always been a mission-driven company. I didn’t start Facebook as a business. I wanted this thing to exist in my community, and over some number of years I came to the realization that the only way to build it out was if it had a good economic engine behind it. I think that increasingly, especially with folks who are millennials, that [view] is going to be the default.
I just view this as a continual thing that every day we can come in and push the line further back on how many people have a voice and how much voice each person has, and we’re going to keep pushing on all of that. It just is this constant work. And at each point, you uncover new issues that you need to solve to get to the next level. Some people will say, oh you tolerate those issues. But the simpler explanation is that the community is evolving. We build new things, that surfaces new issues, we then go deal with those issues, and we keep going. Go back a few years, for example, and we were getting a lot of complaints about click bait. No one wants click bait. But our algorithms at that time were not specifically trained to be able to detect what click bait was. The key was to make tools so the community could tell us what was click bait, and we could factor that into the product. Now it’s not gone a hundred percent but it’s a much smaller problem than it used to be.
We have come to this realization that a bunch of people sitting in a room in California is not going to be the best way to reflect all the local values that people have around the world. So we need to evolve the systems for collective decision making. It’s an interesting problem.
There was a case in Pakistan a handful of years ago where someone tried to get me sentenced to death because someone created a [Facebook] group about encouraging people to depict the Prophet Muhammad. That was illegal in Pakistan but not around the rest of the world. We didn’t show it in Pakistan, but we didn’t take it down everywhere. Some people thought, hey that’s bad that you’re not taking it down. Some people thought, hey why are you taking it down in Pakistan? Our view is, we’re trying to give people as much of a voice as we can around the world, realizing that it’s not perfect at any given point in time but if we do our jobs then day after day we will be increasing the breadth of what people can do and fast forward 20 or 30 years and the world will be in a much better place.
Depending on how controversial of a cycle we’re in, people might focus more on the positive or the negative, but in running a company like this you want to be a little more steady. You’re never going to get everything perfect, but every day you can come in and make progress and make people’s lives, on balance, better. And if you repeat that process for a very long period of time, the value compounds and you can make a very big impact.