Facebook Exec in 2016: ‘Maybe Someone Dies in Terrorist Attack Coordinated on Our Tools’

The latest crisis laying siege to Facebook has raised the specter that Mark Zuckerberg has lost control of his creation and been naive about the unintended consequences of people sharing so much about themselves
AFP

A Facebook executive in 2016 hypothesized that the companies platform could allow terrorists to coordinate, resulting in people’s deaths.

BuzzFeed News reports that Facebook Vice President Andrew “Boz” Bosworth circulated a memo in 2016 titled “The Ugly” which outlined the negative effects that the company’s constant quest for growth and expansion may have. The memo reads:

“We connect people. Period. 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,” VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth wrote.

“So we connect more people,” he wrote in another section of the memo. “That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs someone a life by exposing someone to bullies.

“Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.”

“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. That isn’t something we are doing for ourselves. Or for our stock price (ha!). It is literally just what we do. We connect people. Period.”

It would seem that although in public Facebook continued to insist that they were just a platform and attempted to shirk responsibility for what users did on that platform, internally executives were very aware of the real-world effects that their platform could have. A former senior Facebook employee spoke to BuzzFeed News about the memo from Bosworth saying:

He is definitely a guy who isn’t very diplomatic — he’d blunder into internal debates and internal comms would tend to keep an eye on what he’s doing and posting. The memo is classic Boz because it speaks to the majority of Facebook employee views but it’s also polarizing. Tonally he doesn’t mince words. This is clearly a post meant to rally the troops.

Bosworth took to Twitter to explain the memo, stating that he doesn’t “agree with the post today and I didn’t agree with it even when I wrote it.” Bosworth further stated, “I care deeply about how our product affects people and I take very personally the responsibility I have to make that impact positive.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg commented on the memo in a statement to BuzzFeed News saying:

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.

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.

A former senior Facebook employee said that Bosworth’s memo was “super popular internally,” as many seemed to believe it raised genuine concerns. The former employee stated:

Right now there’s a tremendous amount of soul-searching, internally. Views like Boz’s are being raised retroactively and debated now with more vigor. There was some debate then when he posted it but there were people who’d mostly just stay out of it. But now they feel different. I assume there’s going to be intense debate over this and so many other strategic vision statements in the coming weeks as part of their reckoning.

The full text of the memo can be read below:

Andrew Bosworth
June 18, 2016

The Ugly

We talk about the good and the bad of our work often. I want to talk about the ugly.

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.

That isn’t something we are doing for ourselves. Or for our stock price (ha!). It is literally just what we do. We connect people. Period.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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