Social network is at the crossroads and it could lead to unpredictable paths
A person’s dream clashes with reality all the time, but things are a bit more complicated for Mark Zuckerberg. He has always wanted Facebook to globalise and unify people, and, to a certain degree, his innovation has delivered. The popular social media tool, however, has also widened ideological divides, promoted activism and helped organise activities that are anything but conciliatory. He must have realised this, but may not have really decided which way to go from here.
The idea of a “global community” has many layers. The lower ones must have been all but fulfilled, as Facebook has reunited separated family members, reconnected old friends and created new borderless friendships. It’s the ultimate concept of the “global community” that remains inconclusive. Facebook has brought like-minded people together, but in doing so it has also aggravated differences, be it political, religious or social. Will Facebook support a peaceful “global community” or help quicken chaos on a global scale?
In a long manifesto published a few days ago, Zuckerberg wrote candidly about how Facebook’s mission for “building a global community” is contrary to the current political trend, in which nationalism in the United States and abroad is being reinforced. Such a trend, however, has Facebook’s fingerprints all over it. Donald Trump’s policies envisioning stronger borders and questioning global trade deals and alliances and the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union are among major examples of the world retreating from the “global community” concept.
There are good and bad kinds of activism. It’s clear that Facebook has been facilitating both. An estimated 500,000 people participated in the Women’s March in Washington recently, and almost 3 million people also marched in cities across the United States, thanks through collaborations on Facebook. A survey of more than 500 marchers in Washington found that Facebook significantly drove attendance. The social media are not just helping organisers make plans; they are also letting non-attendants know what their friends are doing, which in many cases amplify peer pressure. As we can see, Facebook’s crossroads is fraught with good and bad potential in all directions. This makes even Zuckerberg himself apparently feel uncertain. “There are questions about whether we can make a global community that works for everyone, and whether the path ahead is to connect more or reverse course,” he wrote in the manifesto. He also admitted that when Facebook began, the idea of a global community was not complicated or controversial.
In what could have arguably been his concession about social media drawbacks, Zuckerberg wrote that a major issue to address is massive misinformation. “The two most-discussed concerns this past year were about diversity of viewpoints we see and accuracy of information,” he said. “I worry about these ... but I also worry there are even more powerful effects we must mitigate around sensationalism and polarisation leading to a loss of common understanding.”
Many linked his manifesto to the rise to power of Donald Trump, who seems to have disappointed Zuckerberg in many respects. He was known to be critical of the new president’s immigration policies and Facebook did come under fire from those who felt fake news spreading on the social media may have helped Trump win the election. Zuckerberg publicly dismissed Facebook’s role in Trump’s victory but Facebook has since tried to crack down on “fake news” that its users might have helped disseminate. The idealist young man is growing up, obviously. Although he did not say it out loud, Zuckerberg is learning that in every noble idea, dark elements lurk, and that dealing with them is more challenging than coming up with the original in the first place.