As the movie title suggests, Facebook began as a social network. It was the experience of college online. A place for those with an “.edu” at the end of their email to collect, share, and socialize. Then Facebook broke open to include users of all other age groups. Pages for interests, bands, movies, books were built. Groups arose. Messager. Events. Video. Quickly, it became possible to replicate almost anything on your feed.
In recent interview with CNN Tech, founder Mark Zuckerberg reflected on this initial purpose, how the site has changed since its formation, and how those differences may affect the site’s future. “We used to have a sense that if we could just do those things, then that would make a lot of the things in the world better by themselves.” This passive approach fit with how relatively frivolous Facebook was in those early years, but with each added tool and update Facebook became more of a place of change. Zuckerberg said he aims to follow this trend. “We realize that we need to do more too.” He then noted the importance of community, of gathering opinions, and diversity.
He drew attention to the impact of Facebook’s “Groups” feature, which launched in 2010. It was created to facilitate communication and help people gather in a grassroots way, a sort of virtual room in which like-minded users could collect. Zuckerberg spoke about the newer community-based Facebook in a post titled “Building Global Community” back in February. In it, Zuckerberg emphasized communities that were supportive, safe, informed, civically engaged, and inclusive. He pointed out the potential impact of Groups and their possible role in conflict resolution. Zuckerberg’s post did more than just applaud the success of the function. It also preempted Facebook announcing a new mission statement.
Since founding, Facebook’s purpose had been “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” It now reads: “To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” It appears that Facebook’s aim to help its near 2 billion users become a more effective community, but to what end? What’s the goal? Rather vaguely, Zuckerberg purposed that within five years Facebook aims at “connecting a billion people to meaningful communities,” It is true that with such a larger base of users the site is uniquely positioned to be a platform for change, both socially and politically; however, how will the site insure that people are gathering for the right reasons.
The majority of the negative press that the site has been getting in the past year surrounded hate-speech and unintentional live streams that drew attention to the darker side of social media. Zuckerberg remains positive. “None of these things can happen just by one country or group of people deciding to do it. There’s no top-down structure to enable that, so the will needs to be built bottom up.”
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