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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 9 December 2018

2016 memo shows that Facebook was aware of its faults

Social media giant has spent the last year reacting to a variety of crises including the spread of misinformation

Andrew Bosworth made the case for the company’s grow-at-all-costs culture, explaining that the negative consequences of the social network. AP Photo/Richard Drew
Andrew Bosworth made the case for the company’s grow-at-all-costs culture, explaining that the negative consequences of the social network. AP Photo/Richard Drew

A 2016 memo from a Facebook executive made the case for the company’s grow-at-all-costs culture, explaining that the negative consequences of the social network – even deaths and terrorist attacks – weren’t reason to abandon its purpose of connecting people to one another.

Facebook has spent the last year reacting to a variety of crises including the spread of misinformation, manipulation by overseas actors, violent videos, racist ad-targeting and, in the past few weeks, a privacy scandal. In each case, the company has responded by saying it will review the issues and adjust to be better for the future.

In the memo obtained by Buzzfeed News, entitled ‘The Ugly’, long-time executive Andrew Bosworth explained that Facebook believes the risks of growth are worth the larger goal: connecting people to one another across the globe.

“That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified,” Mr Bosworth wrote in the memo. “All the questionable contact importing practices. All the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends. All of the work we do to bring more communication in. The work we will likely have to do in China some day.

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“That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs someone a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools,” he said.

In response, Mr Bosworth said Thursday on Twitter that he doesn’t agree with the content of the post today and “didn’t agree with it when I wrote it.” He said he was trying to shed more light on topics that are uncomfortable to talk about, because that’s a critical part of building products.

“To see this post in isolation is rough because it makes it appear as a stance that I hold or that the company holds when neither is the case,” he wrote. “I care deeply about how our product affects people and I take very personally the responsibility I have to make that impact positive.”

In a second tweet, Mr Bosworth responded to questions about why he wrote the memo by saying “it was intended to be provocative. This was one of the most unpopular things I’ve ever written internally and the ensuing debate helped shape our tools for the better.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg disavowed Mr Bosworth’s comments, saying that “Boz is a talented leader who says many provocative things. This was one that most people at Facebook including myself disagreed with strongly. We've never believed the ends justify the means.”