The Zuckerberg Manifesto: Facebook will save the world

The Facebook chief spells out how he hopes his company will work toward building a global community, with help from you -- and AI.

Tech Culture
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Citizen Zuck

James Martin/CNET

"Are we building the world we all want?"

That's the question Mark Zuckerberg used Thursday to kick off an open letter to the Facebook community he helped to build. The answer he offered was that he's hoping his company, the largest social network in the world, will contribute to shaping what he thinks will be a better one.

"Progress now requires humanity coming together not just as cities or nations, but also as a global community," he said.

Naturally, the tools his teams have been putting together -- from the Facebook groups feature and the company's Safety Check system, which tells friends you're OK after a disaster, all the way to futuristic artificial intelligence -- all have a role to play in helping Zuckerberg fulfill this mission.

It's not the first time that Zuckerberg, Facebook's co-founder and CEO, has ventured into talking politics, nor will it likely be the last. Nor is he the only Silicon Valley executive using his position to discuss politics. Others such as Apple's CEO Tim Cook, Google's Sundar Pichai and Microsoft's Satya Nadella have all spoken out, particularly over the past few months since Donald Trump won the presidential election.

Over the past year, Zuckerberg in particular used his position to speak out against the nationalistic rhetoric that's become the center of British and American politics.

In a speech last year, he took a veiled shot at Donald Trump, then the Republican presidential front-runner, arguing against ideas like the proposed wall on the Mexican border.

"I hear fearful voices calling for building walls and distancing people they label as others," he said on that stage last year. "If the world starts to turn inwards, then our community will just have to work even harder to bring people together."

The Trump campaign fought back, saying Zuckerberg should move his family to a border town.

Zuckerberg has faced intensifying criticism over how Facebook wields its power as one of the world's most-visited sites, with a community of more than 1.86 billion people, which is more than half the world's online population and greater than the population of any country on Earth.

During and after the US election, Zuckerberg was criticized for stories that got shared -- or suppressed -- on Facebook. Some people argued his company was unfairly silencing right-wing political voices, while others complained Facebook's algorithm was spreading conspiracy theories and "fake news."

The new mission

Zuckerberg used a more than 5,700-word treatise published on his Facebook account Thursday as an apparent attempt at restating the company's mission. The company will still connect people, as its old mission spelled out, but it also must help get us to a global community.

In his post, he spelled out a five-part mission for the company: building communities that are supportive, safe, informed, civically engaged and inclusive.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

This doesn't mean Facebook will change, per se. But it could be the start of a more politically involved Zuckerberg, and perhaps features and tools that are built with a more political bent.

"Our greatest opportunities are now global -- like spreading prosperity and freedom, promoting peace and understanding, lifting people out of poverty, and accelerating science," he wrote. "Our greatest challenges also need global responses -- like ending terrorism, fighting climate change, and preventing pandemics."

As for what you see on your Facebook news feed, Zuckerberg said his goal is to get to create a better system that blends personal controls, community standards, local laws and a dash of artificial intelligence.

It's a work in progress requiring major advances, stretched out over many years, to get AI to the point where it can assess whether text, photos and videos contain things like hate speech, graphic violence and sexually explicit content. At the current pace of research, he said, Facebook hopes to begin handling some of these cases in 2017.

"The approach," Zuckerberg said, "is to combine creating a large-scale democratic process to determine standards with AI to help enforce them."

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