Facebook executives detail risk associated with company's 'Growth At Any Cost' approach

New memo shows Facebook executives understood the physical and social risks associated with the tools they have created.

  • Published: March 30, 2018 2:00 PM IST

Facebook has had a really terrible last two weeks with revelations around UK-based big data firm Cambridge Analytica harvesting user data dropping like a bomb on the social media giant. Since then, the company has lost over $50 billion in market cap and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been summoned by US and UK government officials to testify in person. It has also led to #DeleteFacebook movement with Elon Musk deleting Facebook pages of Tesla and SpaceX with over 2.5 million followers, and Mozilla deciding to not advertise on the platform anymore.

However, Facebook’s problems are far from over. The root of Facebook’s problems seem to be its “Move Fast Break Things” approach. Now, a new memo shows the kind of culture that prevailed in the company including “growth at any cost”. According to a June 18, 2016 memo obtained by BuzzFeed, Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, Facebook VP circulated an extraordinary memo outlining company’s relentless push towards growth.

“We connect people. Period,” Boz wrote. “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 someday. All of it.”

The report adds that the internal memo was titled “The Ugly”, and has not been previously seen outside the Silicon Valley social media giant. The memo further highlights the fact that Facebook executives understood the physical and social risks associated with the tools they have created. Since BuzzFeed published the memo, Bosworth has distanced himself from the memo. “I don’t agree with the post today and I didn’t agree with it even when I wrote it,” he posted on Twitter.

At Facebook, the memo came across as controversial and BuzzFeed reports that even Zuckerberg disagreed with the statement. “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,” Zuckerberg told the publication.

While such memos within Silicon Valley companies is not new, the use of language by Boz seems blunt. “Maybe it costs someone a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.” The use of such phrase shows that Facebook knew all along that it could have negative effects on connecting people.

Facebook has always maintained a stance that its only goal is to connect people. However, it has been revealed that the system can be tricked to make people believe things that are not really true, and even spread misinformation through the platform. Facebook has gone from connecting people to spreading misinformation to affecting election result of a democracy.

It has also been proven that Facebook has so much of user data that a firm like Cambridge Analytica can build psychograph, which can be further used to understand how a person on Facebook will react to a particular post. Mark Zuckerberg has been summoned by the US Congress to appear before a Senate committee hearing on data privacy scheduled for April 10. He has also shown that the platform might need some kind of regulation and it now seems like a question whether Facebook has grown too big to be controlled without catastrophic effects.

  • Published Date: March 30, 2018 2:00 PM IST