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Top Facebook Exec Defends Data Collection in 2016 Memo: ‘Maybe Someone Dies’

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Facebook is reeling after an explosive and breathtaking memo from the senior Facebook leader Andrew Bosworth was published Thursday night.

The memo, which was published by BuzzFeed News, is from Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, one of Facebook’s longest-tenured execs and one of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s closest colleagues. The memo, from 2016, highlights that Facebook’s work doesn’t always have positive outcomes.

Here’s the key quote from Bosworth’s memo:

So we connect more people.

That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.

And still we connect people.

The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good. It is perhaps the only area where the metrics do tell the true story as far as we are concerned.

That isn’t something we are doing for ourselves. Or for our stock price (ha!). It is literally just what we do. We connect people. Period.

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 some day. All of it.

Bosworth’s memo was titled “The Ugly” and posted the day after a user broadcast the shooting of a Chicago man on Facebook Live. Bosworth said on Twitter the message was “intended to be provocative” and that he “didn’t agree with it” when he wrote it.

Bosworth is practically acknowledging that Facebook can have adverse effects on our lives — and the memo was shared in the summer before the presidential election. The quote also reveals an inner conflict at Facebook, whereby executives were uneasy about the company’s growth tactics and ethics.

In a statement given to BuzzFeed News after publication of this story, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote:

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.

We recognize that connecting people isn’t enough by itself. We also need to work to bring people closer together. We changed our whole mission and company focus to reflect this last year.

The memo’s revelation comes on the heels of the Cambridge Analytica story about how a political consultancy firm was able to use a third-party app to game the social network into yielding up to 50m profiles. These users may have been susceptible to attempts to swing vital votes in the US presidential election and the Brexit referendum in Britain in 2016.

Read Andrew Bosworth’s entire memo here.

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