The Bosworth Memo

March 31, 2018 - Reading time: 2 minutes

I notice some amount of scandal around an internal Facebook memo written by Andrew Bosworth in 2016. What he's basically saying is that Facebook's mission is to connect people regardless of the outcomes of those connections, and that connecting people is always good.

That's obviously not true, and Zuckerberg is right when he says in response:

We recognize that connecting people isn't enough by itself. We also need to work to bring people closer together.

Probably the more damning part of this memo is where Bosworth admits to Facebook's use of antipatterns to trick people into over-sharing.

That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified. 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 Facebook scandal of the last month or so is just one of many over the previous decade. It's always nice to see people leaving that site, so long as they end up going somewhere better and not just disconnecting themselves out of misplaced hubris. Despite what technology journalists may say, there are real alternatives to Facebook and have been for many years. Friendica is still quite good, as is Hubzilla. Diaspora still exists. Mastodon is currently by far most popular of the non-corporate social network systems. And there are others in ascendancy. I am quietly (ok, noisily) confident that the worm is beginning to turn on what has been the status quo in social networks for the last decade.

I don't know anything about Andrew Bosworth, and the current fashion is to attack the individual as being uniquely immoral. This trend seems to apply regardless of where you are in the political milieu. Left, right, whatever. But it's important to remember that especially for a company the size of Facebook it's not really about corrupt individuals. The behavior and attitudes of Facebook staffers is strongly determined by the logic of the business model, which is surveillance capital. Even if Bosworth were to resign in disgrace he would be replaced by someone whose standpoint towards users and shareholders would be extremely similar. People create organizations but also organizations and their situation within a market (admittedly limited in this case - Facebook is a near monopoly) create particular kinds of personality. As the anthropologyst Alan McFarlane once said, Capitalism contains many contraditions, and often these contradictions play out within individual personalities.


The blog of Bob Mottram, a Free Software hacker and maintainer of the Freedombone project.

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