What Zuck’s letter didn’t say

He might not want to run for office any time soon, but Mark Zuckerberg has perfected the time-honored political art of talking a lot without saying anything.

In a sprawling letter consisting mostly of feel-good mumbo jumbo and a light sprinkling of feature ideas, the Facebook visionary laid out 5,700 words’ worth of nonspecific stuff that sounds nice. Like fellow Facebook feel-gooder Sheryl Sandberg, Zuck was sure to drive home the warm/fuzzy message of his ad-dollar factory, hitting isolated human interest anecdotes with more frequency than the evening news.

While his desire for corporate self-reflection is mildly admirable in an industry loath to introspect, all of those words don’t manage to add up to the sum of their parts. (Seriously, that’s kind of a lot of words.) Of course, Zuck is right that Facebook does have a uniquely huge opportunity to do novel things at massive scale. But what can you really pull off if your number one goal is to avoid rocking a boat full of nearly two billion people?

For a snapshot of what the letter discussed, we broke down a few topics by number of mentions:

 Zuck’s greater good


Fake news


In one of the only substantive bits, Zuckerberg owns up to some of his platform’s recent shortcomings:

“In the last year, the complexity of the issues we’ve seen has outstripped our existing processes for governing the community. We saw this in errors taking down newsworthy videos related to Black Lives Matter and police violence, and in removing the historical Terror of War photo from Vietnam. We’ve seen this in misclassifying hate speech in political debates in both directions — taking down accounts and content that should be left up and leaving up content that was hateful and should be taken down. Both the number of issues and their cultural importance has increased recently.”

You had us right up until that last sentence.

Facebook’s raison d’être

Sure, it’s nice that Facebook wants to do Good Things, but it’d be nicer if the company didn’t beat us over the head with its own ostensible selflessness. It’s hard to find inspiration in Facebook’s grand global mission when the fact of the matter is that it stands to make a lot of money by expanding into countries it has yet to conquer. This remains the obvious undercurrent behind its global mission to nobly connect everyone everywhere.

This should go without saying, but a lot of users (and plenty of reporters) seem unduly charmed by Facebook’s humanitarian overtures. Facebook engages in a lot of strategic philanthropy, but that doesn’t make its mission philanthropic. Its mission is making money. It’s okay to say that!

While Zuckerberg’s letter is not particularly profound, his message is clear: Facebook, the great equivocator, is truly for everyone. The lowest common denominator of digital socialization works extraordinarily well for no one in particular. By rallying around a nebulous notion of a greater good that flows through humanity at scale (miraculously alienating no one in the process!), Facebook can be some things to all people — and that’s really been its true mission all along.

Perhaps we should all put aside our differences and join hands on the next quarterly earnings call?