We Are Substance

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Dear Mark Zuckerberg and employees of Facebook:

Facebook has incredible potential. I do not say this lightly. I am often critical of your company’s decisions, but I believe Facebook can and should become a transformational force for good in this world. But you are not there yet. Facebook’s attitudes toward information and user privacy are harmful and serve to undermine our autonomy. Up to now, Facebook has failed to create enduring, meaningful value in the lives of most users because you focus too much on information, too little on people. I challenge you to do better.

I challenge Facebook to open up possibilities, not preferences. Help us become more human, not simply more connected. And rather than dissolve our capacity for privacy, teach us to become stewards of our own information. I challenge Facebook to start mattering.

1. Open up possibilities, not preferences.

Do not filter information based on a narrow and often arbitrary set of “preferences” that you’ve identified about your users. Far from making the world more “social,” this ultimately transforms our social network into an echo chamber, making it easy to avoid ideas that challenge us and dramatically narrowing the scope of information and ideas available to us. Your vision of a world where “everything is social” is world where everything we encounter has been so filtered and tailored that it becomes a mere reflection of ourselves. This is not social at all, but deeply anti-social, even solipsistic.

Instead of narrowing our possibilities and cheapening our encounters with information, help us look outside of ourselves to see and even anticipate new possibilities. Do it openly and talk often about the implications of your actions. If you must filter the information we see, show us not the just familiar, the agreeable and the predictable but also the novel, the uncomfortable and the unexpected. Suggest friends, pages and groups that seem both like us and also different from us. If Facebook’s vision is truly a more social world, you won’t get there by filtering out disagreeable information. You will get there by opening up our worlds and helping us become more than what we are.

2. Help us become more human, not simply more connected.

I have been on Facebook since 2005, and I have, without doubt, become more connected as a result – to friends, colleagues, professors, classmates, distant cousins, old high school rivals, even my parents’ former co-workers. But digital connections are not the same as human relationships. For all its likes, shares, comments, status updates and tags, the Facebook self revolves around the I – what I like, what I think, what I want, what I share, and given the vastly increasing presence of brands, what I consume.

Stop reinforcing shallow notions of selfhood bound up with consumerism and egocentrism, and start helping us deepen our human relationships. Give us a place not just to connect, but to commune. Meaningful relationships are possible in the digital realm, but not when the focus of your platform is brands, likes and shallow interactions. You must empower your users to get more out of Facebook than that. You might say the onus is users to create meaningful interactions with one another; that’s what a lazy brand would say. A brand that matters would strive to help people to expand their potential through human relationships and deep, genuine, purposeful collaboration and interaction. OpenIDEO is an inspiring example of what a social network can be.

3. Teach us to become stewards of our own information.

For all its talk of transparency and openness, Facebook has been astonishingly bad at helping users understand just how little privacy they have on the Facebook platform. All that data may be a boon to brands, but if you are going to continue opening up the platform, you owe it to your users to help them navigate the treacherous waters of privacy in an increasingly transparent world.

Transparency and autonomy are not the same thing, though we often confuse the two. When you make changes to your users’ privacy without helping them understand the implications of those changes, you are actually making them less free, because you are robbing them of the capacity to make decisions with full knowledge of the consequences. Teach us to become good stewards of our information, rather than unconscious slaves to it. This is how you will cultivate more autonomy in the world, not by recklessly opening up more data.

So, Facebook, there you have it. You’ve got a lot of potential. If you want to remain merely useful, merely fun and merely shallow, then feel free to disregard everything I’ve just written. But if you want to transform an industry and become a potent force for deep, enduring betterness in the world, that is, if you want to matter, then hopefully I’ve given you something to think about. 

What do you say?

[via: a fearless revolution ]

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