Facebook still isn't adding a "dislike" button any time soon.
That was one question Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg answered today as part of a larger question-and-answer session, which covered a broad range of topics including his personal life and how Facebook approaches social issues like economic disparty.
Here are a few paraphrased versions of the most interesting questions that were asked, and some of Zuckerberg's responses:
Would Facebook consider a "dislike" button?
Some have asked for a dislike button because they want to say something isn't good, that's not something that's good for the world. There doesn't need to be a voting mechanism. I don't think that's socially very valuable or good for the community.
Often people tell us they don't feel comfortable pressing "like" because it isn't the appropriate sentiment. One of the things we've had some dialogue internally is what's the right way for people to easily express a broader range of emotion.
What's one piece of advice you'd have for someone starting a company?
Don't worry about making mistakes too much. The number one question I'm asked is, what mistakes do you wish you could have avoided? I really don't think that's the right question; that's how you learn. The real question is how you learn from them, and not which things you can avoid.
Why can't I change my username, and how do you feel about real names in general?
For the spec question about usernames, it's a technical answer. I have the username "Zuck." You can type in "Zuck" and it goes to my profile. We limit each person to one username; if you type in "Facebook.com/Zuck," that can only go to one person, so we limit that to one person.
At the same time there are functional reasons [for using your real name] in as many places. First is being able to go type someone's name in search and add them as a friend and connect with them; it's easier to find someone by real name. The other is that occasionally when you have a big community, there are some people who want to use it for bad things with other parts of the community. If you're connected [by your real name] there's more accountability and you're less likely to do those things rather than going by anonymous handle. It's all part of building a safe community; it's an important part of our policy that we do this.
What is the role of social media in bringing communities together [around issues like Ferguson]?
We take our role in this civic debate really seriously; there are two things we want to do and enable. The first is we want to give everyone a voice. If some events like this happened 50 years ago, you might have only read about it from newspapers or TV. What we're trying to do is make sure everyone has a voice and channel and share their opinions or research or facts, and broadcast to their friends and family.
The second thing is diversity of opinion. That's something we also take seriously. Historically maybe someone would watch a few TV stations or read a few newspapers. They would probably only get a few different kinds of voices. One thing we care a lot about is making sure people get exposed to a diversity of opinions. That builds a stronger community. One thing we're proud of is basically on Facebook, even if you're Republican or Democrat, you have some friends in the other camp [whose opinions will show up on News Feed].
Any new year's resolutions?
It's too early for that. I've actually taken new year's resolutions pretty seriously for the past five years. My view is I spend so much time running this company that I want to do other things outside that, and my new year's resolution is a good way to force myself to do that... I usually decide about a week beforehand.
How can Facebook bridge the disconnect between people and elected officials?
One example recently is we launched this product called Safety Check, which gives people, when there's a natural disaster or some other catastrophe in some country, a tool to say they're safe and make it so friends and family know they're safe.
Another is just enabling elected officials to communicate with the people they serve. When I asked [leaders in India and Indonesia], they told me they want a channel to speak directly with the people they serve, and they don't want to have to go through someone else who might twist the message.
Why are there so many updates?
Have you or Facebook thought about what specific issues [like economic disparity] can be covered in the realm of Facebook?
[Economic disparity] is something we care deeply about, and we spend a lot of time helping small businesses use Facebook to grow customers and engage with customers. There are a bunch of products we have that help large companies market and sell products as well; that's a large part of the business. A lot of what we do is have pages people can use for free on Facebook, and you can build up an audience and communicate with people. We have about 30 million pages; there's a small number of large companies and a large number of small businesses. That's an important part of the ecosystem. You care about friends and family and what's going on around you, but local businesses and shops you go to and where you go get food are just really important for both people who are using Facebook to get info and these small businesses to grow their presence. As we've worked on this over time, it's become an increasingly important channel to find new customers and connect with existing customers. That's probably the best way to do this in the world, and the way we create more global opportunity is allowing people to start new entrepreneurial efforts.
What are some personal habits that have contributed to your success?
One of the most important things I try to do is focus my time proactively rather reactively. One thing I found a few years ago is that there are enough things that happen throughout the day that you can consume all your time dealing with whatever comes up today. The most important thing is to make sure you're putting your time into the things you want to see happen rather than the things other people are pushing you to do. You do need to be responsive to the community, and I want to proactively spend a lot of time on that.
What do you like on your pizza?
My view on this important issue is if you're gonna be eating pizza, you might as well have fried chicken on pizza.
What is your opinion on [programming]?
Even for people whose job isn't to write code, understanding the discipline gives you analytical tools that are valuable for anything you want to do. We're very supportive of trying to help people in the community learn to code. I've contributed to efforts like Code.org; that exists to influence schools to teach more computer science. I think it's going to be an important change in the world.
How do you think about the ethical concerns [related to personalization]?
Every day we'll try out different features; we'll try ranking or kind of showing different kinds of questions in News Feed. We'll test different products as well. One question was on the dislike button; I can assure you before we add that we'll test something to make sure it has positive impacts. Some changes we make we're not sure ahead of time if we're gonna make things faster or slower.
One thing we wanted to be careful about, there are certain types of things just we don't want to be testing on internally. Things around privacy, we're just not gonna test. Anything we are gonna do that might affect how you share stuff, the type of data you share with Facebook, that's something I really should know about before things go out. That's not something an engineer should just be able to test. Similarly, anything with young people, minors, or any kind of sensitive community is something we need to be especially careful about; anything around emotions and the psychological well-being in our community is a really important thing, that we make sure people internally don't have the ability to test.
There are good reasons why you might want to test these things. The study we did, [the result] was seeing happy posts in other people's lives was making people sad. We care deeply about this; we don't want to make people sad, we don't want to be doing things that's going to be impacting people's emotions in a way we don't understand. So we figured this is something that we have a responsibility to our community to try and understand what the impact of Facebook is. We ran a relatively small test that didn't show as many happy or sad posts... and we measured whether they were posting happy or sad things after. I actually think that that's the type of thing our community should want us to test. We want to make sure when we're making changes that they're positive social changes. If people are actually sharing stuff, if something is happening on Facebook that's going to have a negative impact on society... I think we have a responsibility to understand that and take steps to have a more positive impact in society. The way we did it, I think we could have done it a lot better, and we need to ensure that when some engineer wants to go test something, that the right people know about it and the right people can evaluate whether we should test it.
If you [had a young daughter], how would you approach Facebook?
I try to put myself in the shoes of having a child, especially for younger folks who are using our services, because I don't. I don't have any children; it's an interesting kind of mind-set.
On the one hand I remember being really young and using technology and feeling like I had a good sense of the stuff. I started Facebook when I was a teen. From that sense I clearly was able to use enough technology to to do some things; I think that was pretty positive. I think society sometimes has a bit of an overbearing attitude, where we treat children as if they don't know how to do stuff, and sometimes they're more sophisticated than we could ever imagine. I have that attitude from my own firsthand experience. On the other hand I try to empathize. We want to take care of our family. Bullying is a real issue, and it's something we take really seriously... Parts of our policy, like having real names, go toward that drive.
...But I think, to answer your question, I would follow our rules. We don't allow people under 13 to use Facebook, so I would not allow my child under 13 to use Facebook, and after that I would probably talk to them about it. I would want my children to use technology because it's one of the ways you become literate and develop skills you need to for the modern world. And I don't think banning that stuff is quite the right way to go about making sure children know what's out there. But I do think it's something, you want to be in constant dialogue with your child, and make sure if there's anything harmful going on that you can report to us or any school administrators, if there's any bullying or anything negative. That is stuff we take very seriously; there is stuff out there and we need to continue doing our best to make sure that goes away.
Matthew Lynley is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News in San Francisco. Lynley reports on Silicon Valley and the tech industry.
Contact Matthew Lynley at email@example.com.
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