The Ugly Truths About Facebook Have Been Hidden In Plain Sight For Years

So, just in case you missed it, Buzzfeed got their hands on an internal memo written by Facebook’s Vice President Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, simply named “The Ugly.”

In this memo (published in full at the bottom), he looks to justify many of the social networks “questionable” practices in their quest for growth with the company’s connecting of people and the mixed impact of connecting so many people.

“Maybe it even saves the life of someone on the brink of suicide.” One line of the memo reads, followed by the ever so slightly more eye-opening “Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.”

Boz himself has been quick out of the gate with a response, chalking it up to one post taken out of context amongst a lot of internal memos where he was simply introducing talking points. But that hasn’t stopped this becoming international news.

But here’s the kicker. None of this really is news… Is it? We all already kind of knew a lot of this.

A byproduct of connecting people, not just on Facebook but on any communication platform, has been both positive and negative conversation. People were bullied over the telephone. Terrorist attacks were planned using the telegram. And to balance it, people did find love over Email (hello, You’ve Got Mail). 

The ugly truth of any means to connect people being a “*de facto* good” is that it’s a de facto good across centuries of communication, with each one coming at some level of sacrifice to privacy. And that, I believe is one of the main points of this story’s newsworthiness.

Beyond the difference of perception between the company’s downplaying of its platform’s risks publicly and the internal acknowledgement in this memo (which in my opinion isn’t really a big deal - but just a company’s employees talking amongst themselves, like every company (yes, including Buzzfeed News) does), Facebook has had a bad week in the realm of privacy.

You may have watched Channel 4’s investigative pieces about Cambridge Analytica, and the use of a quiz-based application to retrieve significant amounts of data on 50 million people, which was used for impactful paid promotion during the 2016 presidential campaign.

This story has brought the ever-dwindling sense of privacy on Facebook into the public spotlight - causing a rightful outrage towards these nefarious practices and most probably making this memo newsworthy.

However, once again, it’s another ugly truth about Facebook that we all kind of knew was happening. I certainly did with nearly 10 years of social media marketing employment under my belt, and so did friends & family around me.

While the crux of the story was Cambridge Analytica violating election & privacy laws with this bulk data purchase, the emotional hook for many was discovering the somewhat frightening levels  of content targeting which are possible on the platform (something I’ve spoken at length about on this blog). 

Advertising on the platform has been an open secret for years, as has the impacts (both positive and negative) of this vast-reaching social media platform. But as is the same with any product of communication, the world looked past its flaws and boring the ugly truths.

This is not news. But the future of data privacy that we, as a species are willing to accept and how vocal we are about it, will be. Watch this space.

Full memo

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.