In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the Christchurch terror attack and the US$5 billion Federal Trade Commission fine, it was never going to be an easy task to lead a session called ‘Is Facebook Good for the World?’.
This was left up to Ime Archibong, vice president of partnerships, to discuss the company’s social impact and responsibility on the ThinkTV Stage at Sydney’s Luna Park.
Archibong took it in his stride and just like Antonio Lucio, Facebook’s global marketing officer, didn’t shy away from hard issues.
He started off his session directly asking the crowd how many were “pretty sceptical” of whether Facebook is good for the world or not.
Seemingly pleasantly surprised at the show of hands (around 50 percent of the full room), he commented: “Y’all are nicer than I thought you might be.”
Alongside privacy and data, it was the Christchurch terror attack Archibong knew would call his session’s title into question.
He acknowledged the horror and sadness of the event and said there is “no world” where Facebook is comfortable with intolerance and hateful content on its platforms.
“As a company, we care really deeply about this.”
In talking about Christchurch, Archibong called upon Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s idea that there is a danger in a single story as it risks critical misunderstanding and ascribing stereotypes.
Archibong said single stories aren’t an issue because they’re inaccurate but because they’re incomplete.
“The technology that we saw weaponised for Christchurch to spread hate and intolerance is the same technology that the next day the New Zealand Prime Minister used to spread a message around how we are not to stand for that hate or intolerance, we’re going to stand together.”
And while Facebook has its dark moments and corners, Archibong said the site was also being used to shine a light on that which tries to hide in these dark places. This didn’t mean he wasn’t aware that Facebook had, and could be, used for nefarious ways.
“We have to recognise that there are people that are going to try to use our technology or tools for bad, we got to address that, we got to make sure we step up.”
Regardless, he remains optimistic in the power of technology.
“The power of Facebook groups is undeniable, just the way people have been able to harness that technology, to bring communities together, to strength communities."
To illustrate this point, Archibong brought on stage representatives from three Australian Facebook groups and not-for-profits/movements – the Institute of Many (TIM), Project Rockit and Take 3 For The Sea.
They spoke with Archibong about how Facebook and technology had empowered their communities, authenticity, the two-way interaction available and the receiving of sentiment from communities.
Scale, size and complexity
Later that day at a press roundtable with Archibong, he said when asked about Facebook being good for the world, it was not surprising considering the past couple of years that there was scepticism, disagreement and questioning.
“Moving forward, we as a company, looking at the next 15 years, are really thinking about how to design and innovate in a responsible fashion and manner. That’s not as easy as just saying we’re going to do it – it takes a lot of hard work.”
One journalist asked Archibong that while he had laid out Facebook’s intention to change, why should the public be convinced when the company is only making changes when things had been exposed?
“I get the opportunity to talk to all the new people who come to the company and one of the things that I try and remind anyone that is starting at the company on day one is that at least 50 percent of the things we work on given the size, scale and complexity of the company is unprecedented, doesn’t have a road map to follow, doesn’t have a history behind it, “ Archibong replied.
“… in saying that hopefully, we get more things right than we get wrong, but we’ll get some things wrong along the way. If we get some things wrong, we have to own up to it, respond as fast as possible and make sure we learn from mistakes moving forward.”
For Facebook to re-earn trust around the world was by showing up in a consistent way, he said.
“The proof will be in the pudding as opposed to giving lip service.”
It was asked if what had been going on had had an impact on business; were brands and clients of Facebook more hesitant to work with the company as a result of what has been going on.
Archibong explained that the previous night he spent time with around 15 brands from New Zealand to have a candid conversation with their marketing officers.
“While each of them was representing their respective organisations, given the way our technology shows up in people’s lives it was a human-to-human conversation. More often than not their relationship with Facebook transcends than who they are representing – earning trust and relating human to human is paramount.”
While there had been negative perception and reaction to Facebook, Archibong said in his own life he was an athlete as well as a nerd, and he loved a good comeback story.
“I think that the tide could shift just as quickly if we do the job we need to do and engage with the hard conversations.”
Speaking of comeback stories, he was asked if he saw a comeback for traditional media.
“I think it’s paramount. With our engagement with traditional media, trying to figure out what the future looks like is one of the best and most interesting conversations we can have.
“There needs to be a conversation and dialogue, we need to work in conjunction with traditional media to figure out what it looks like on our platforms and our properties. We have invested pretty heavily globally into journalism – we have an initiative called the Facebook Journalist Project – journalism is important, local journalism is important."
With Facebook serving 2.7 billion people, ultimately it will reflect those that use it.
This is why technology can be a force for good in the world, as shown by the impressive trio Archibong had join him on stage, but as Christchurch illustrated, it can be used be weaponised for horrific means.
Like Lucio, Archibong was charming, confident and optimistic, but as he said himself, the "proof will be in the pudding" whether Facebook steps up to its tasks and responsibilities in the years to come.
Georgina Harris travelled to Sydney courtesy of Facebook