Facebook memo outlines ‘ugly truth’ behind its mission

‘Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies,’ executive memo said

“Anything that allows us to connect more people more often is de facto good,” the memo entitled “The Ugly” said. Photograph: Reuters

“Anything that allows us to connect more people more often is de facto good,” the memo entitled “The Ugly” said. Photograph: Reuters

 

Facebook must pursue its aim of connecting people using “questionable” practices even if it costs lives, a company executive wrote in a 2016 memo leaked in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica revelations.

Andrew Bosworth, a vice-president who has been at Facebook since the early days, wrote a memo entitled “The Ugly”, which was leaked to BuzzFeed. It claimed that everything Facebook does to grow is “justified”.

The memo was published internally at Facebook the day after the death of a Chicago man was shown on Facebook Live.

“Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack co-ordinated on our tools,” he wrote. “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 . . . 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.”

Mr Bosworth, known as Boz, said this justified “questionable contact-importing practices” where users give up their friends’ data, and implied the privacy policy language was meant to deceive with “the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends”.

He suggested Facebook was planning to compromise to get into China, where it is banned, alluding to “the work we will probably have to do in China some day”.

Not a force for good

The memo surfaces as Facebook comes under scrutiny for its data-collection practices and battles a growing perception it is not a force for good.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook chief executive, distanced himself from the memo, saying: “Most people at Facebook including myself disagreed with it strongly.”

In a statement to BuzzFeed, Mr Zuckerberg said: “We’ve never believed the ends justify the means. We recognise 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.”

Mr Bosworth said he did not agree with the post today and did not agree with it when he wrote it. In a statement posted on Twitter, he said he wrote it instead to “bring to the surface issues I felt deserved more discussion with the broader company” .

“I care deeply about how our product affects people and I take very personally the responsibility I have to make that impact positive.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018