In January, Facebook announced that it would be changing its feed algorithm to promote users’ well-being over time spent browsing content. That’s a relatively new approach for a company whose ethos once centered around “move fast, break things.”

It wasn’t all that long ago (approximately a year and a half before the algorithm change) that Facebook VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, published an internal memo called “The Ugly,” which was circulated throughout the company. In it, Boz made it clear to employees that connecting people (i.e. growth) is the main focus at Facebook, at all costs.

Buzzfeed first published the memo, which said:

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.

He goes on:

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.

Facebook launched in 2004 and ushered in a honeymoon period for users. We reveled in uploading photos from our digital cameras and sharing them with friends. We cared about each and every notification. We shared our status. We played Farmville. We diligently curated our Likes.

But the honeymoon is over. Facebook grew to 1 billion active users in 2012. The social network now has over 2 billion active users. A growing number of people get their news from social media. The size and scope of Facebook is simply overwhelming.

And we’ve been well aware, as users and outsiders looking in on the network, that just like any other tool, Facebook can be used for evil.

But there was still some question whether or not Facebook leadership understood that principle, and if they did, whether or not they actually cared.

For a long time, perhaps too long, Facebook adhered to the “Move fast, break things” mentality. And things have certainly been broken, from fake news circulated during the 2016 Presidential election to the improper use of user data by third-party developers and Cambridge Analytica . And that’s likely the tip of the iceberg.

The memo was written long before the shit hit the fan for Facebook. It was published following the broadcast of Antonio Perkins’ murder on Facebook. This was back when Facebook was still insisting that it isn’t a media company, that it is simply a set of pipes through which people can ship off their content.

What is so shocking about the memo is that it confirms some of our deepest fears. A social network, with a population greater than any single country, is solely focused on growth over the well-being of the society it’s built. That the ends, to be a product everyone uses, might justify the means.

Facebook has tried to move away from this persona, however gently. In late 2016, Zuckerberg finally budged on the idea that Facebook is a media company, clarifying that it’s not a traditional media company. Last year, the company launched the Journalism Project in response to the scary growth of fake news on the platform. Zuckerberg even posted full-page print ads seeking patience and forgiveness in the wake of this most recent Cambridge Analytica scandal.

While that all seems like more of a public relations response than actionable change, it’s better than the stoic, inflexible silence of before.

After Buzzfeed published the memo, Boz and Zuckerberg both responded.

Boz said it was all about spurring internal debate to help shape future tools.

Zuck had this to say:

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.

If Boz wrote this memo to spark debate, it’s hard to discern whether that debate led to real change.

The memo has since been deleted, but you can read the full text below:

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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