Less than six months ago, it seemed that Meta, the company behind Facebook and Instagram, had learned a very public lesson. Between its involvement in spreading disinformation in the January 6 insurrection, a humiliating leak of documents showing how little it cared about the corrosive impact of its policies, and public calls to break the company up, the company seemed ready for a reset.
In Silicon Valley parlance, this was the moment for a “pivot.” And sure enough, on Tuesday Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced to all his employees and the world, “Now is the right time to update our values and our cultural operating system.” Dared we hope, as Meta moved to embrace the virtual world it calls the “metaverse,” that it might finally take responsibility for the moral dimensions of operating two of the world’s most addicting websites?
Take a close look at Meta’s six new paramount values and you’ll see what’s missing: the slightest concern for customers, users, or society as a whole. Here’s the to-do list:
- Move Fast. Zuckerberg wants Meta to “build and learn faster than anyone else.” That means you and I and the rest of its billions of users are beta testers; if a change inflames hatred and amplifies a small number of its most polarizing and violent users, they’ll deal with that later.
- Focus on Long-Term Impact. The short-term problems of divisiveness and false, incendiary content are in the rear-view mirror. That’s certainly not what Meta’s most talented engineers will be working on, because draining the Facebook cesspool isn’t “strategic.”
- Live in the Future. Zuckerberg has signaled what that future is: the metaverse. It’s no longer sufficient to exploit the pervasive Facebook and Instagram platforms – platforms that are slowly declining as Apple’s privacy controls interfere with Facebook’s ad targeting. Zuckerberg craves a new, more immersive virtual world where he won’t have to deal with pesky regulations and the rules that come along with other companies’ hardware.
- Build Awesome Things. But are they things that the world’s users want? As Zuckerberg wrote, “We’ve already built products that are useful to billions of people, but in our next chapter we’ll focus more on inspiring people.” After the last few years, I’m not really looking for awe-inspiring – I’d be happier with safety and peace.
- Be Direct and Respect Your Colleagues. “Be direct” means at Meta, manners still don’t really matter. As for respect, Zuckerberg seems more focused on retaining the engineers than respecting us poor users.
- Meta, Metamates, Me. Translation: company first, colleagues second, and after that, be selfish. Where do us users fall? We didn’t even make the list!
The other shoe dropped yesterday. Nick Clegg, a former UK political leader who has managed Facebook’s image for years, will take on a new position as President, Global Affairs. What does that mean? According to Zuckerberg, “The landscape around regulation for our industry is changing quickly. We need a senior leader at the level of myself (for our products) and Sheryl (for our business) who can lead and represent us for all of our policy issues globally.”
So they are promoting a new leader to deal with regulation — and treating it as a significant obstacle to the future plans to “be awesome.” “As Nick takes on this new leadership role,” Zuckerberg explains, “it will enable me to focus more of my energy on leading the company as we build new products for the future . . . ” Translation: in the onslaught on users, Zuck will play offense, and his former PR guy will play defense.
Whatever you can say about other tech giants like Google, Apple, and Amazon, they focus daily and obsessively on the needs of their users and customers. That gives us influence. If one of those companies goes too far, it will lose us – a reality they’re constantly thinking about.
Meta is ready to leave the customer-first principle behind – Zuckerberg’s company is now focused on being awesome without worrying whether it’s also awful.
It’s time to bust Meta up and slow it down. Given the chance to reform itself, this social media behemoth has instead launched headlong into the creation of a new environment that promises to be every bit as toxic as the one it’s failing to maintain right now. For the sake of the society Zuckerberg failed to even mention in his new set of values, governments and legislators can’t let that new creation follow the same lawless and unregulated path as the old ones.