Mark Zuckerberg, the 32-year billionaire, co-founder and CEO of the world’s largest social network recently revealed his thoughts on what it takes to manage a global community.
Facebook is currently home to about 2 billion users, more than a fifth of the world’s total population. Of that, Indians comprise of around 200 million users, a few million ahead of the USA.
As a percentage of India’s population, that number is insignificant. As a percentage of India’s internet-enabled population, it’s not so bad, but it’s still worse than in saturated markets like the US and Japan.
Zuckerberg, in an interview with Fast Company (FC), touched on a number of points that are very relevant to a nascent market like India. With the surge in low-cost internet-ready devices and a dramatic drop in the price of data access, Facebook’s next billion could easily come from India.
Facebook’s CEO has always maintained that the whole point of Facebook is to make the world a more open and connected place. In the FC interview, he makes a small addition, stating that Facebook will now, “hopefully build some of the social infrastructure for a global community.”
If you remember Zuckerberg’s ideologically charged treatise that describes Facebook as a force for change in the world, he said pretty much the same thing.
Frederic Filloux, on Medium, presents a compelling argument for why Facebook can never be a force for global change. As he explains, Facebook is an advertising machine par excellence, and that’s what it will remain. He alleges that Facebook will do what it must to keep its ad-revenue high.
On fake news
FC put a similar question to Zuckerberg and he appeared to almost be offended by the very notion of it.
“People want business leaders to be authentic and stand for things. One of the most frustrating things I read is when people assume that we don’t do something because it will cost us money,” says Zuckerberg. He tries to explain that balancing the ideals of free speech and the hurtful nature of hate speech is very hard.
“People should have the ability to say what they think, even if someone else disagrees with that. And freedom of speech is a funny thing because people always want freedom of speech unless people disagree with them,” he says.
He admits that Facebook is widely criticized for allowing the spread of misinformation for money, a claim that Zuckerberg believes is untrue. He believes that people in a community want information all the time, real information, and that they just need the tools to help them acquire it.
In a country like India, this argument for access to quality information hits home. Misinformation spreads through the most popular mediums of communication. In a country like India, as internet penetration increases, mediums like WhatsApp will be, and already are, sources of misinformation.
If over half of tech-savvy Americans can see Facebook as a source of news, what chance will real news have in our country?
If Facebook can indeed work out a mechanism to provide quality news, that’s good news overall.
Speaking of news, India is a very touchy country. Some subjects that are fine in other countries are taboo here. Nudity, cows, religion, all such topics are hotbeds of controversy. In his treatise, Zuckerberg did explain that he was aiming for what was, in essence, community driven censorship.
It’s not for someone in California to decide what India’s sensibilities are, after all.
“I still believe more strongly than ever that giving the most voice to the most people will be this positive force in society.
Giving the most voice to the most people can lead you to controversial things as well. There are laws in some countries that you’re not allowed to say certain things, and as a general principle we try to follow local laws. Do we agree with all of those? Not necessarily,” claims Zuckerberg.
Referring to a recent case in Pakistan, where a Facebook group encouraging the depiction of Prophet Muhammad resulted in death threats against Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO points out that Facebook simply pulled the page in Pakistan, but kept it live elsewhere.
“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,” says Zuckerberg. He believes that such issues will persist, that nothing is perfect. He hopes that 20-30 years in the future, when Facebook is closer to achieving its core objective, things will have changed.
On moving too fast
Another of Zuckerberg’s arguments that is very apt for India revolves around the technological revolution. As we charge forward towards our own hopes of transforming into a digital India, people who don’t adapt fast enough are going to be left behind.
Zuckerberg said that we don’t acknowledge this aspect of technology. He believes that “people who are the luckiest and most fortunate” have a responsibility to the people who are not that lucky.
He also believes that infrastructure is key to bringing up all sections of society.
“It may be that when people are economically struggling they need a stronger social support structure. But it is always an important need, and I think we are overlooking the extent to which over the last 30 or 40 years some of the infrastructure for that social community has declined,” he tells FC.
Interestingly, Zuckerberg doesn’t think that propping people up is the solution. He’s very clear on the fact that everyone must have a “sense of purpose and meaning and dignity.” He believes that this is necessary for any society to grow.
He’s not averse to giving tools that will enable this, however, and he believes that Facebook can be that tool.
A community must be able to decide for itself.
The importance of doing something
Most importantly, it’s necessary to do something, reveals Zuckerberg. It may not be perfect, but nothing ever is. Anything will have its ugly side and you deal with the consequences. The only way to move forward as a society/community, however, is by trying to do something.
You will face failure, but the positives will eventually outweigh the negatives.
Whatever we believe of Facebook’s motivations and the means with which it intends to achieve change, one has to admit, it is trying something different.