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Designing the Future

The last manifesto that Zuckerberg wrote was in 2012, as part of Facebook’s application to sell its stock to the public. It explained Facebook’s philosophy — what he called “the hacker way” — and sketched an unorthodox path for the soon-to-be-public company. “Facebook was not originally created to be a company,” he wrote. “It was built to accomplish a social mission: to make the world more open and connected.” ...
He also confesses misgivings about Facebook’s role in the news. “Giving everyone a voice has historically been a very positive force for public discourse because it increases the diversity of ideas shared,” he writes. “But the past year has also shown it may fragment our shared sense of reality.” ...
But the solution to the broader misinformation dilemma — the pervasive climate of rumor, propaganda and conspiracy theories that Facebook has inadvertently incubated — may require something that Facebook has never done: ignoring the likes and dislikes of its users. ... Facebook’s entire project, when it comes to news, rests on the assumption that people’s individual preferences ultimately coincide with the public good, and that if it doesn’t appear that way at first, you’re not delving deeply enough into the data. By contrast, decades of social-science research shows that most of us simply prefer stuff that feels true to our worldview even if it isn’t true at all and that the mining of all those preference signals is likely to lead us deeper into bubbles rather than out of them. ...
Jonah Peretti, the founder of BuzzFeed, told me that he wanted Facebook to use its data to create a kind of reputational score for online news, as well as explore ways of strengthening reporting through monetary partnerships.

“At some point, if they really want to address this, they have to say, ‘This is good information’ and ‘This is bad information,’ ” says Emily Bell, the director for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School. ...
There aren’t many technical reasons Facebook could not implement such plans. The hurdles are institutional and philosophical, and ultimately financial too. Late last year, Facebook outlined a modest effort to curb misinformation. ...
Still, in both our conversation and his new manifesto, Zuckerberg remained preoccupied with the kind of problems that could be solved by the kind of hyperconnectivity he believed in, not the ones caused by it. “There’s a social infrastructure that needs to get built for modern problems in order for humanity to get to the next level,” he said. “Having more people oriented not just toward short-term things but toward building the long-term social infrastructure that needs to get built across all these things in order to enable people to come together is going to be a really important thing over the next decades.” ...
“We’re getting to a point where the biggest opportunities I think in the world ... problems like preventing pandemics from spreading or ending terrorism, all these things, they require a level of coordination and connection that I don’t think can only be solved by the current systems that we have,” Zuckerberg told me. What’s needed, he argues, is some global superstructure to advance humanity. ...
He is positioning Facebook — and, considering that he commands absolute voting control of the company, he is positioning himself — as a critical enabler of the next generation of human society. ... His desire to take on global social problems through digital connectivity, and specifically through Facebook, feels like part of the same impulse.

- FARHAD MANJOO, Can Facebook Fix Its Own Worst Bug?, NYT, APRIL 25, 2017


“Every day, I say to myself, ‘I don’t have much time here on Earth, how can I make the greatest positive impact?’ Some nights I go to bed and I’m not sure I made the right choices that day,” Mr. Zuckerberg said at the June conference. “I can tell you, those doubts don’t go away, no matter who you are. But every day you just get up and try to make the world a little better.”
- MIKE ISAAC, At Facebook, Hand-Wringing Over a Fix for Fake Content, NYT, OCT. 27, 2017


Mr. Hoffman has emerged as Silicon Valley’s prime behind-the-scenes political influencer. A Democrat with a net worth of more than $3 billion, he has spread his cash this year by financing groups that want to restore dialogue and inclusion to politics. ...
Mr. Hoffman is motivated by a sense that people are morally obliged to participate in civic society, said Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley investor and a founder of the digital payments company PayPal. Mr. Thiel, a supporter of Mr. Trump, has known Mr. Hoffman since both attended Stanford University in the 1980s.

“I would describe Reid as left of center, with a very strong sense of empathy for those who are less fortunate,” Mr. Thiel wrote in an email. “It’s more of a character trait than an ideological position.”

Unlike many of his tech peers, who are only now becoming more politicized, Mr. Hoffman has long been interested in government. A native of Palo Alto, Calif., he attended boarding school in Vermont and graduated from Stanford, where he was an ultraliberal member of the Student Senate alongside his conservative classmate Mr. Thiel. He later attended Oxford University on a Marshall Scholarship. ...

Mrs. Clinton’s defeat forced Mr. Hoffman to recalibrate in various ways — especially in his view of social media. Reddit, Facebook and Twitter had given Mr. Trump and his supporters vast platforms, and tech companies like Facebook had given mass distribution to misinformation campaigns.
Mr. Hoffman decided the tech industry had to confront the challenges created by social networks, including their potential to undermine democracy. ...
Chris Lehane, the head of global policy and public affairs at Airbnb and a former top adviser to President Bill Clinton, said, “Even before the election, Reid talked about the idea that the technology industry has to own its responsibility for the changes in society that it is driving.”

Mr. Hoffman has since used his cash and connections to shape the organizations and start-ups that support the issues where he wants to exert the most influence. He has also tried to convince the tech industry to take responsibility for how its products are built and used.

In the spring, Mr. Hoffman convened a small group of tech leaders to dine with Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, at the Rosewood Hotel in Menlo Park, Calif. The group discussed the prospect of governments trying to regulate tech companies and, in particular, the unemployment problems being created by automation and artificial intelligence. ...
He increased his venture-style investments in new civic and political start-ups, as well as continuing to fund some he had previously invested in, like Change.org and political fund-raising start-up Crowdpac. ...
Mr. Hoffman said he would judge his investments in civic-change start-ups by their ability to affect society, not by any financial return.

“One of the things that I get most frustrated with is this kind of American business psychology, this view that I’m only responsible to my customers and employees and shareholders,” he said. “We have to be part of the political process. We can’t just invent the future without some kind of connectivity.”
- KATIE BENNER, Using Silicon Valley Tactics, LinkedIn’s Founder Is Working to Blunt Trump, NYT, SEPT. 8, 2017



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