NEW YORK - Mark Zuckerberg’s long-term vision for Facebook (FB), laid out in a sweeping manifesto, sometimes sounds more like a utopian social guide than a business plan. Are we, he asks, “building the world we all want?”
While most people now use Facebook to connect with friends and family, Zuckerberg hopes that the social network can encourage more civic engagement, an informed public and community support in the years to come. Facebook now has nearly 2 billion members, which makes it larger than any nation in the world.
“Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community.... Yet now, across the world there are people left behind by globalization, and movements for withdrawing from global connection,” Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook in a Harvard dorm room in 2004, wrote in a post on his page on Thursday. “In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.”
In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Zuckerberg stressed that he wasn’t motivated by any one particular event — not even the U.S. election — to write the 5,500-word missive, which he’s been working on for the past month on nights and weekends. Rather, he said, it’s the growing sentiment in many parts of the world that “connecting the world” — the founding idea behind Facebook — is no longer a good thing.
Zuckerberg, 32, said he still strongly believes that more connectedness is the right direction for the world. But, he adds, it’s “not enough if it’s good for some people but it’s doesn’t work for other people. We really have to bring everyone along.”
The letter is short on specific details and plans Facebook has in the works. And it does not mention anything about Facebook as a business, its billions in advertising revenue or the targeting it is often criticized for. Zuckerberg said Facebook provides regular updates on how its business is doing and product launches — and this is meant to be different.
Facebook began as a way for Harvard students to connect with other Harvard students online. Over the years it expanded to include other college and university students, high schoolers, then people who were no longer in school ... and then everyone, really. At least those lucky enough to have an internet connection and a computer or smartphone. Or even an old, basic phone for a “lite” version available in developing countries.
Today, most of Facebook’s 1.86 billion members — about 85 percent — live outside of the U.S. and Canada. The Menlo Park, California-based company has offices everywhere from Amsterdam to Jakarta to Tel Aviv. (It is banned in China, the world’s most populous country, though some people get around it.) Naturally, Zuckerberg takes a global view of Facebook and sees potential that goes beyond borders, cities and nations.
People use Facebook to share photos of babies and pets, to connect with strangers who have the same rare disease, to post political diatribes, to share news links (and sometimes fake news links ). Facebook has also pushed its users to register to vote, to donate to causes, to mark themselves safe after natural disasters, and to “go live.” For many, it’s become a utility. Some 1.23 billion people use it daily.
How people use Facebook is evolving. Increasingly, people use it to connect with strangers based on shared interests. In groups, people talk about everything from knitting to parenting to political activism . More than 100 million people are in at least one Facebook group, though Zuckerberg wants way more. He laments the fading of traditional social communities such as churches, labor unions and local groups.
“A healthy society needs these communities to support our personal, emotional and spiritual needs,” Zuckerberg wrote. “In a world where this physical social infrastructure has been declining, we have a real opportunity to help strengthen these communities and the social fabric of our society.”
Zuckerberg has gotten Facebook to this position of global dominance — one that Myspace and Twitter, for instance, never even approached — partly thanks to his audacious, long-term view of the company and its place in the world.
Rather than getting fixated on the next quarter’s profit or the next day’s user uproar, he tends to consider Facebook 5, 10 or more years into the future. It’s as grandiose as it’s been successful, at least so far.
“For the past decade, Facebook has focused on connecting friends and families. With that foundation, our next focus will be developing the social infrastructure for community — for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all,” he wrote.
Last fall, Zuckerberg and his wife, the doctor Priscilla Chan, unveiled the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a long-term effort aimed at eradicating all disease by the end of this century. Then, as now, Zuckerberg preferred to look far down the road to the potential of scientific and technological innovations that have not been perfected, or even invented yet. This includes artificial intelligence.
“The long term promise of AI is that in addition to identifying risks more quickly and accurately than would have already happened, it may also identify risks that nobody would have flagged at all — including terrorists planning attacks using private channels, people bullying someone too afraid to report it themselves, and other issues both local and global,” he wrote. “It will take many years to develop these systems.”
Speaking to the AP, Zuckerberg said he understands that we might not “solve all the issues that we want” in the short term.
“One of my favorite quotes is this Bill Gates quote, that ‘people overestimate what they can get done in two years and underestimate what they can get done in 10 years.’ And that’s an important mindset that I hope more people take today,” he said.