Leaked Memo Seems to Confirm Worst Fears About Facebook

Technology

A leaked memo has caused an uproar at Facebook by employees who are both upset about the memo and others who are upset it leaked. In the memo, Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook vice president wrote that Facebook’s growth rate is the company’s top priority, and that everything else was secondary. Even privacy, and even the loss of life.

“We talk about the good and the bad of our work often. I want to talk about the ugly,” Bosworth wrote in the 2016 memo. “We connect people. That can be good if they make it positive. Maybe someone finds love. Maybe it even saves the life of someone on the brink of suicide. So we connect more people. That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still we connect people.”

“The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good. It is perhaps the only area where the metrics do tell the true story as far as we are concerned,” he wrote.

Bosworth went on to write that growth, the main driver of Facebook’s success, is what allows the company to do the other good things the company does. Therefore, Bosworth argues, the company has to sacrifice some integrity in order to achieve it.

“I know a lot of people don’t want to hear this. Most of us have the luxury of working in the warm glow of building products consumers love. But make no mistake, growth tactics are how we got here. If you joined the company because it is doing great work, that’s why we get to do that great work. We do have great products but we still wouldn’t be half our size without pushing the envelope on growth,” Bosworth wrote.

“Nothing makes Facebook as valuable as having your friends on it, and no product decisions have gotten as many friends on as the ones made in growth. Not photo tagging. Not news feed. Not messenger. Nothing. That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified. All the questionable contact importing practices. All the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends. All of the work we do to bring more communication in. The work we will likely have to do in China some day. All of it.”

Bosworth joined Facebook from Microsoft in January 2006 and is by all accounts, a member of a small inner circle of top Facebook execs. He has been involved in many of Facebook’s major initiatives in recent years, including anti-abuse systems, virtual reality efforts and Groups. He currently heads Facebook’s News Feed function.

In response to the publication of the memo both he and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg disavowed the memo and the values espouses in it. The purpose of the memo, Bosworth contends, was to spark internal debate about Facebook’s belief system.

“I don’t agree with the post today and I didn’t agree with it even when I wrote it. The purpose of this post, like many others I have written internally, was to bring to the surface issues I felt deserved more discussion with the broader company,” Bosworth wrote on Twitter.

“To see this post in isolation is rough because it makes it appear as a stance that I hold or that the company holds when neither is the case. I care deeply about how our product affects people and I take very personally the responsibility I have to make that impact positive,” he wrote.

“Boz is a talented leader who says many provocative things. This was one that most people at Facebook including myself disagreed with strongly. We’ve never believed the ends justify the means,” Zuckerberg wrote in a statement after the memo’s release. “We recognize that connecting people isn’t enough by itself. We also need to work to bring people closer together. We changed our whole mission and company focus to reflect this last year.”

The leak of the memo is damaging because it seems to confirm the public’s worst fears of the company putting its own interests ahead of its users.

“The natural state of the world is not connected. It is not unified. It is fragmented by borders, languages, and increasingly by different products. The best products don’t win. The ones everyone use win,” the memo read. “In almost all of our work, we have to answer hard questions about what we believe. We have to justify the metrics and make sure they aren’t losing out on a bigger picture. But connecting people. That’s our imperative. Because that’s what we do. We connect people.”

Photo by Kalhh via Pixabay

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