Newly-revealed 2016 internal memo says Facebook growth justified even if it kills someone

A memo written in 2016 has just come to light in which a Facebook VP argues that ‘questionable’ and deceptive tactics to grow the platform are justified – even if they cost someone their life.

The memo was written by one of Facebook’s longest-serving execs, Andrew “Boz” Bosworth …

Buzzfeed obtained a copy of the memo, shown in full below, describing it as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘explosive.’

We connect people. That can be good if they make it positive. Maybe someone finds love. Maybe it even saves the life of someone on the brink of suicide. So we connect more people

That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools […]

We connect people. Period. 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 work we will likely have to do in China some day. All of it.

Bosworth says in a tweet that the memo didn’t reflect his real view, but was a deliberately provocative viewpoint designed to stimulate debate within the company.

Having a debate around hard topics like these is a critical part of our process and to do that effectively we have to consider even bad ideas, if only to eliminate them. 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.

The impression given in this statement is that it was a devil’s advocate piece, though nothing in the memo itself indicates this.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Buzzfeed that he ‘strongly disagrees’ with the viewpoint expressed in the memo.

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.

We recognize that connecting people isn’t enough by itself. We also need to work to bring people closer together. We changed our whole mission and company focus to reflect this last year.

It follows Facebook scrambling to respond to a PR crisis over the misuse of Facebook user data by a third-party company.

The release of the memo also comes just as Apple introduced a new privacy page during iOS 11.3 setup which informs users that they will see a shaking-hands icon anytime an Apple app or feature asks for personal information.

You can read the full memo below.

Photo: AP

Andrew Bosworth June 18, 2016

The Ugly

We talk about the good and the bad of our work often. I want to talk about the ugly.

We connect people.

That can be good if they make it positive. Maybe someone finds love. Maybe it even saves the life of someone on the brink of suicide.

So we connect more people

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

And still we connect people.

The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good. It is perhaps the only area where the metrics do tell the true story as far as we are concerned.

That isn’t something we are doing for ourselves. Or for our stock price (ha!). It is literally just what we do. We connect people. Period.

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 work we will likely have to do in China some day. All of it.

The natural state of the world is not connected. It is not unified. It is fragmented by borders, languages, and increasingly by different products. The best products don’t win. The ones everyone use win.

I know a lot of people don’t want to hear this. Most of us have the luxury of working in the warm glow of building products consumers love. But make no mistake, growth tactics are how we got here. If you joined the company because it is doing great work, that’s why we get to do that great work. We do have great products but we still wouldn’t be half our size without pushing the envelope on growth. Nothing makes Facebook as valuable as having your friends on it, and no product decisions have gotten as many friends on as the ones made in growth. Not photo tagging. Not news feed. Not messenger. Nothing.

In almost all of our work, we have to answer hard questions about what we believe. We have to justify the metrics and make sure they aren’t losing out on a bigger picture. But connecting people. That’s our imperative. Because that’s what we do. We connect people.


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