A high-ranking Facebook executive named Andrew Bosworth, who is said to be a “confidant” of Mark Zuckerberg, wrote a 2,500 word memo to his staff about lessons the company learned from the 2016 election and how the company should approach the 2020 election. In it he mentions a lesson he learned from Lord of the Rings. We’ll get to that in a bit but first, the NY Times published the memo in full and a separate story about the memo. A comparison of the two is interesting. First, here’s the opening of the Times’ story:
Since the 2016 election, when Russian trolls and a tsunami of misinformation turned social media into a partisan battlefield, Facebook has wrestled with the role it played in President Trump’s victory.
Now, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times, a longtime Facebook executive has told employees that the company had a moral duty not to tilt the scales against Mr. Trump as he seeks re-election.
On Dec. 30, Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division, wrote on his internal Facebook page that, as a liberal, he found himself wanting to use the social network’s powerful platform against Mr. Trump. But citing the “Lord of the Rings” franchise and the philosopher John Rawls, Mr. Bosworth said that doing so would eventually backfire.
What’s striking if you read the entire memo is how very different this summary is in tone and in content. It’s not that the Times’ is making anything up but it does seem to be coasting on assumptions about Facebook which the bulk of the memo seeks to dismiss. Were Russian trolls and a “tsunami of misinformation” deciding factors in the 2016 election? Anyone reading the three paragraphs above would be forgiven for believing the answer was yes. After all, if Bosworth believes Facebook could sway the 2020 election then surely all of that misinformation swayed the 2016 election, right?