Next week is going to be a lot for Facebook and tech
When I wrote last week’s newsletter about what was next for Facebook I should have known that I was nowhere near prepared for the beast of a week we’re about to enter into. This week’s newsletter is a little shorter than my past ones so please forgive me for that. Lot’s more to come in future weeks.
Let’s recap really quickly what is scheduled to happen soon:
All these stories will drop that the 30+ news orgs are working on.
Haugen testifies to the UK parliament Monday.
Tuesday we have YouTube, Snap, and TikTok testifying to the Senate.
And because the tech gods hate us, something else crazy happens.
Five things don’t feel like a lot but they are. This is a huge week not just for Facebook but in the history of tech. So, let’s take a little bit of time to go through some of the things I’ve been telling folks to keep in mind during all of this.
Embrace the chaos - As Fred Thomson said in the Hunt for Red October, “This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we'll be lucky to live through it.” There’s going to be a lot coming at us over the next week or so and we’re not going to be able to process it all right away. Ride the wave and know this will take time.
Understand the tradeoffs - I’m certainly biased here, but one thing Facebook is correct when it comes to these documents is that they represent only one aspect of the conversation and decisions being made. They are important perspectives and we should absolutely discuss how different things are prioritized, but let’s not just paint these decisions in black or white.
Appreciate nuance - I’ve been asked a bunch recently about how Facebook could know harm was happening on the platform and do nothing about it. The fact is there will always be harm happening on the platform. The research shows they are building tools to try to combat it, but they are nowhere near perfect. No solution will ever be perfect and any solution has to start somewhere. We should be discussing the right ways to build solutions responsibly and what more companies should do, but we shouldn’t expect that the answer is to just make one change and it’ll all be better.
Don’t take the bait - Facebook, advocacy orgs and many others will throw a lot of bait into these waters. They want to see what can divert attention to the things they want attention on. Try to parse the signal from the noise.
Facebook has done a lot - Another area where I’m biased but the company has done a lot over the last few years. More resources would always be nice, but in my last 18 months at Facebook, I started giving out cards to people with Teddy Roosevelt's speech “The man in the Arena” on them. I truly believe the work the company has done has helped pave the way for others. They’ll adopt the successes and learn from the failures. At least Facebook was willing to put themselves out there to do these things and for that, I’ll always be proud.
Reality sucks - Many of us have high aspirations over how we want the world to work and hold power to account. We hate how these companies have so much power but then get really mad when they don’t use that power to stand up to governments who have their own power (like jailing their employees if they don’t take action). A lot of stories have been written about how unthinkable it is that Facebook would take political concerns into account when making decisions. Fact is, there is political fallout from decisions. Shutdowns can happen. We shouldn’t fault the companies for wanting to know all the potential fallout from their decisions. We should discuss what level of prioritization political fallout gets when making those decisions.
Look ahead - While there are many lessons to be learned from 2020, I’m so worried that we are still spending so much time looking in the rearview mirror versus the mess coming at us for the next three years. The Facebook docs tell a story about how we tried to grapple with the last few years. They tell a story of the tradeoffs and decisions made and the consequences of making them. Actions of today will affect where we are in 3-4 years. Let’s start preparing now.
What I’m Reading
“Outside the Bubble: Social Media and Political Participation in Western Democracies” by Cristian Vaccari
EU proposal to exempt news publications from content moderation