Leaked Facebook memo: ‘ugly truth’ justified any growth tactics
Buzzfeed has published an internal Facebook memo entitled “The Ugly” from 2016 that shows just how much emphasis the social network places on growth above safety, privacy and everything else. Written by Facebook VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, one of Mark Zuckerberg’s staunchest allies, the memo tries to defend the social network’s “questionable contact importing practices” and pretty much takes a very “ends justify the means” tone. Part of the memo reads:
“…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.”
Based on those words, Facebook’s top execs knew the issues that could arise from the way its platform works. In fact, as Buzzfeed noted, Boz posted the memo a day after Facebook Live captured the moment when a man from Chicago was shot to death. Shortly after that, a terrorist who posted about his plans to die as a martyr on Facebook stabbed and murdered an Israeli teen.
The memo shows the social network in an even worse light than before, considering its messsage. Facebook has been under fire more than usual ever since Cambridge Analytica’s secret data collection was exposed to the public. An executive defending its “questionable contact importing practices” (even if it is in a 2-year-old memo) is definitely not a good thing.
A former senior employee told Buzzfeed that the note “speaks to the majority of Facebook employee views,” but not everyone within the company believes growth should be everything: at least one engineer said it became a significant factor in his decision to leave. Former employee Alec Muffett said that an underrepresented portion of the company’s Engineering community really do care about user privacy.
As a response to the memo’s release, Boz claimed in a statement posted on Twitter that he didn’t actually agree with it when he wrote it, and he doesn’t agree with it today. He said its purpose was to surface the issues he thought deserved more discussion within the company:
My statement on the recent Buzzfeed story containing a post I wrote in 2016 pic.twitter.com/lmzDMcrjv5
— Boz (@boztank) March 29, 2018
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg also denied that the social network doesn’t care if someone loses a life or if people’s data are collected, so long as it connects more and more people, telling Buzzfeed in a statement:
“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.”