I was quite amused reading the wide-ranging reactions to Mark Zuckerberg's recent note on, as he sees it, Facebook's role in the world going forward.
As an NPR report put it, these reactions went from extreme cynicism to genuine praise, with some intermediate stops in places like naïve-as-hell land. TechCrunch, to look no further, used the expression 'Sociology 101 essay' in the newsletter presenting their coverage.
To me the most interesting aspect in Zuckerberg's letter was the tacit acknowledgement that ducking Facebook's gigantic social responsibility was no longer an option. On the back of the last US presidential election I was one of the large number of people astonished by the Facebook founder and CEO's reaction to fake-news-related criticism. Zuckerberg is hardly to blame for his deep desire to position his highly successful digital company as a not-part-of-media technology platform. What good has come to anyone from being labelled as a media company in, say, the last decade?
Desires come free and unlimited. But is it realistic to defend that Facebook is a mere neutral platform, not accountable in any way for the actions of its billions of users and the related results yielded by its advanced algorithms? Not at all, I'd say. It is also noteworthy that in his c. 5,000 words text, Zuckerberg referred seven times to artificial intelligence. The importance of this critical technology is most likely only going to increase. But then, will algorithm developers get away with a shoulder shrug when asked about the actual results yielded by their tech concoctions in the future? Most probably not, as Facebook's own actions point to - here too.
It feels like Zuckerberg has now acknowledged more fully his platform's great transformative power, but without being entirely grown up about it, and again quoting TechCrunch, "he's hoping to skirt any divisive politics in wielding that power, while also still 'helping people' in the end". As TC put it, good luck with that!