In a manifesto written in 2017, Mark Zuckerberg wrote, in part:
In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us. For the past decade, Facebook has focused on connecting friends and families. With that foundation, our next focus will be developing the social infrastructure for community—for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all.
Yuval Levin examines this quote from Zuckerberg in his book A Time to Build. Let’s pick up about halfway through his analysis (bolding mine):
The notion that “helping people come together online as well as offline” will be an effective means of addressing the crisis suggests that the crisis involves, at a fundamental level, an inability to come together. If that were so, then a technology that allows us to connect would surely help a lot. But how we come together matters. The titans of social media seem to have given remarkably little attention to the ways in which their platforms actually structure interaction—or at least how these ways of structuring social interaction add up to something like a social psychology.
What they have thought about—quite a bit, in fact—is how they might structure the incentives users face on their platforms to maximize attention, which after all is the commodity they offer. Facebook’s “global community” of users consists not of paying customers but of people who have access to the platform at no cost. Its paying customers are advertisers, to whom the company sells the attention (and sometimes personal information) of those users.
Mediating our lives through social information and entertainment platforms suggests we understand our social lives as forms of mutual entertainment and information. And the more of our social lives that we launder through such platforms, the more this peculiar understanding of sociality becomes the truth.
You are not Facebook’s customer—you and your data are the product for the real customer: the advertiser.
Facebook says it wants to foster constructive community, but it can never do that if it is designed to farm attention for ad dollars.
Attempting to maintain a healthy, generative social life on a platform that is built to promote entertainment is a quixotic effort.
Facebook has, either implicitly or explicitly, promised you “community.” It can’t deliver on that promise. It is fundamentally broken at its core in such a way that it can only offer you a shadow of community that gives you a taste of genuine community while leaving you still thirsty. It’s a mirage.
Real community is found with our noses out of our screens.