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A look at Facebook's 'ugly' memo

Facebook needs to confront the "ugly" in chasing its beliefs, says a top exec's leaked note from 2016. What exactly does Facebook believe? Here's a peek at the memo.

Facebook logo photographed with a fisheye lens
"All the work we do in growth is justified," says a 2016 memo by longtime Facebook exec Andrew "Boz" Bosworth.
Jonathan Nackstrand/Getty Images

The leaked Facebook memo, entitled "The Ugly" and penned by longtime exec Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, has upped the creepy quotient on the world's largest social network, even as it wrangles with the current scandal about its data dealings and the work of voter-profiling firm Cambridge Analytica.

Bosworth -- who joined CEO Mark Zuckerberg's team in 2006, ran Facebook's ad business, and worked on Messenger, News Feed and Groups -- responded to the uproar by saying he wrote the 2016 internal missive to inspire discussion among staff. "It was intended to be provocative," Bosworth, who now oversees Facebook's virtual reality, augmented reality and consumer hardware efforts, tweeted on Thursday. "This was one of the most unpopular things I've ever written internally and the ensuing debate helped shape our tools for the better."

We can only hope so. Because taken at face value, the memo doesn't seem to be the sort of thing that inspires confidence in Facebook, its methods, or its philosophy.

Zuckerberg and his team are dealing with the fallout from news earlier this month that a third-party developer collected data from 50 million Facebook users and improperly shared it with Cambridge Analytica, a London-based research firm. Cambridge used the info it got on users' behavior to help the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Facebook, which now has more than 2 billion users worldwide, has become such an influential platform for news and information that Zuckerberg, who last week apologized to users for betraying their trust, is being called on by US and European regulators to explain how the data misuse happened and what the social network is doing to make sure it never happens again.

Bosworth isn't the first tech VIP to write an uproar-causing internal memo. A decade back, Yahoo executive Brad Garlinghouse wrote an internal assessment of the internet portal's prospects called the "Peanut Butter Manifesto."

Here's a look at what Bosworth saw as three key issues Facebook needed to confront.

1. Someone finds love, someone dies

The 409-word memo starts by calling out what Bosworth describes as the "ugly" side of what Facebook does. What does Facebook do? The company's "imperative," he wrote, is to "connect people." And to continue growing so it can "connect more people more often." Before the memo dives into the ugly side of this growth and these connections, though, it touches on the good side:

"Maybe someone finds love. Maybe it even saves the life of someone on the brink of suicide.

"So we connect more people."

Now for the ugly:

"Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools."

But that doesn't matter, says the note, because, again, Facebook's imperative is to connect:

"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."

Bosworth says this isn't about making money. It just is what it is:

"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."

2. Size matters, above all else

And that end of connecting more people more often justifies the means -- even if it involves sketchy treatment of data or satisfying the demands of a repressive foreign regime:

"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."

Again, it's about that ultimate goal of connecting more people more often, and the growth required to do that:

"The best products don't win. The ones everyone use win."

To put it another way, size matters, above all else:

"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."

3. 'That's what we do. We connect people'

It can be a bitter pill to swallow:

"In almost all of our work, we have to answer hard questions about what we believe."

And what was it, again, that Facebook believes?

"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."

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