Zuckerberg’s New Mission: Save the World


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

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Honest! When we wrote yesterday about Facebook trying to be all things to all people, we didn’t know that Mark Zuckerberg was about to drop a weighty manifesto illustrating just how true that is.

Zuckerberg’s letter, a revision of the company’s mission statement, commits himself and Facebook to “develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.” It sets new priorities for the company: strengthen and support existing civil institutions, increase voting and democratic participation, help people feel and be safer, improve the quality of information users access, and promote inclusion locally and globally.

Zuckerberg’s thoughtful, Lincoln-quoting post (not a campaign document, really; Facebook insists Zuck is not running for office) is clearly a response to today’s angry isolationist backlash against the global capitalism on which Facebook is built (Mike Isaac in The New York Times). At a moment when Facebook is getting blamed for partisan rancor and the propagation of made-up news, it repositions the company as a torch-carrier for the ideal of global interdependence (Steven Levy in Backchannel).

Facebook doesn’t only reflect society: it actively shapes society. It’s great to see Zuckerberg grapple with that reality, even if it might all have worked out better if he’d started doing so before scaling Facebook up to nearly two billion users (Casey Newton in The Verge).

But it’s hard to take the Facebook CEO’s constant references to “the Facebook community” seriously. Communities have boundaries, however porous they may need to be. Facebook is a publicly traded firm that already encompasses billions of customers and wants to rope in the rest of humanity for what is at root an ad-based business. It doesn’t look like a community, and it doesn’t behave like one.

Truth is, we already have a “social infrastructure for community” — we call it civilization. Facebook thinks we’re all going to be happy sharing one worldwide social network, but our lives are more complex than that. We need a more nuanced ecosystem of social networks that empowers individuals to present different facets of themselves to different groups of associates (workplace colleagues, family members, close friends, and so on).

Facebook could evolve into that. But it will require subtler and more radical thinking from Zuckerberg and his team.

Yes, Even YouTube Has Politics

With 50 million subscribers, Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie, is known as “the king of YouTube.” But after he posted a gag involving paying Fiverr freelancers to wave a sign reading “Death to All Jews,” sponsors starting dropping him (The Wall Street Journal). Kjellberg said he intended to show “how crazy the modern world is,” not espouse anti-Semitism, but that didn’t stop him winning cheers from neo-Nazis.

Transgressive teenage-gamer humor? Or latent bigotry revealing itself in a guard-down moment? Whichever interpretation you prefer, the PewDiePie story indicates just how complex and politically charged the relationship between “talent” and platform has become (John Herrman in The New York Times Magazine). The interests of YouTube stars who earn their livelihood on the service are not congruent with the interests of YouTube managers who want the serviceto grow but also to feel safe and mainstream.

How Kjellberg’s saga plays out on the media stage — whether he ends up ostracized or exonerated — may ultimately matter less than how it is received by his online fanbase. If his tale ends up precipitating a new kind of post-Gamergate, Trump-era alt-right resentment among YouTube’s youthful crowds, Herrman suggests, watch out.

For Old TVs and Monitors, Recycling Is a Pipe Dream

Before there were flat screens on our desks and touch screens in our pockets, there were big boxy cathode-ray tube TVs and monitors in every office and home. Where are they now? Piled up in varying stages of destruction on warehouse floors, in the care of companies that keep going bankrupt trying to dispose of them responsibly, or any way at all (Jason Koebler in Vice Motherboard).

Breaking a CRT down the right way (“demanufacturing”) is costly and dangerous; most of the tubes — 700 million of them sold in the U.S. since 1980 — contain lead. Recycling depends on reuse, but since nobody’s making CRTs any more, no one needs their leaded glass. So huge mountains of discarded monitors have ended up shuttling between disposal companies in a shell-game funded by the small fees these firms collect to take them off your hands.

“The CRT mess, the industry says, has been caused by a fundamental refusal by society to acknowledge that recycling is an expensive proposition,” Koebler writes. Which of our whizzy gizmos today will become tomorrow’s toxic headache?

Small Business Will Drive Us All to the Edge

Collectively, small business is way bigger than “Big Business.” But small business activity is harder to get your head around: It’s conducted in a million different ways by individuals who aren’t founding companies but simply earning livings (Doc Searls in NewCo Shift).

These proprietors don’t “want to grow their businesses any larger than they need to be,” Searls writes. “None thought about an exit when they started up. None call themselves ‘entrepreneurs,’ or go to expensive conferences. Instead they socialize at bars, clubs, gyms, restaurants, churches, city parks, beaches, ball games and on the street. They tend to have roles rather than jobs. When you need one, you look for a mechanic, a painter, a lawyer or a driver.”

All this labor is the dark matter of our economy. If the last big wave of technology constructed massive centralized platforms to exploit the potential of cloud-based computing, according to Searls, the next one will harness “edge intelligence” to power these small businesses in ways that make sense for them.

We’re Off Next Week

The NewCo Daily will be on vacation all next week. We’ll see you again on Monday, Feb. 27!


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