Open Letter To Mark Zuckerberg

Dear Mark,

I hope this letter reaches you, and finds you well.

First of all, allow me to congratulate you on your well-recognized achievements. Not everyone creates a telecommunications platform that redefines the way in which we all connect. I became a big fan of Facebook after incorporating it to my transmedia project Beware of Images. The project is aimed at generating media literacy awareness, and Facebook was helping us reach that goal. It was simple and worked perfectly, people became members, and they received our updates. However, as I write to you today, I am very frustrated and disappointed with the platform’s current direction.

I don’t know, and probably will never know about the problems and responsibilities of running a multi-billion dollar corporation. I am certain that managing a platform of almost a billion users, with all its technical, social, legal and economic complexities, must be a daunting task.

Still, it has become evident to anyone using the platform for community-building, that its recent direction is not guided by technological limitations, but by economic pressures. On my page, I have seen activity decline drastically, even as it constantly gains new members. When I finally received a reply from Facebook regarding this issue, I was advised to address it by spending on Promoted Posts.

I have made great sacrifices to pay for Facebook ads, and they have helped me gain new members. Directing an independent, not-for-profit project, I can’t afford to spend more on your platform than what I already do. Truthfully speaking, after investing much time, money and effort building a community which I’m now being limited to reach, I find Facebook’s current practices disconcerting. Not only because you’re preventing me from reaching members I’ve already paid to connect with, but because you’ve basically broken your own functioning system in order to sell us the solution.

But this is about much more than my little media literacy page, and that’s the reason I wanted to communicate with you.

I know that we live in an age of entitlement, which certainly accounts for many of the complaints you receive constantly. But there must be more than that when a free service, which by all means should be loved by its users, finds itself listed as one of the most hated companies in America.

In my opinion, this is not because Facebook is not an amazing tool, but because despite its huge public-benefit potential, the company is choosing to move in the opposite direction.  Also because users who have noticed this trend, and have expressed their concerns, feel targeted or ignored. Still, I’ll give it another shot.

I know that you’ve become one of the wealthiest men on the planet, but that alone does not impress me. I am impressed by Jonas Salk, the American virologist who developed the polio vaccine in 1955. At a time when polio was considered the most frightening public health problem of post-war America, Salk released his vaccine to the public domain. Make no mistake, he could have become a millionaire from his discovery, but he chose not to. Asked in an interview who owned the patent to the vaccine, Salk replied: “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

I’m sure Mr. Salk understood that, unlike the sun, the polio vaccine was his achievement. He also understood what was riding on it, and how beneficial it could be for society at large.

I admire your achievements, but I’m beginning to doubt that Facebook, as a corporate entity, understands what’s riding on them or how beneficial they can be for society at large. Losing sight of this would be Facebook’s most regrettable mistake. How are millions of nonprofits to communicate and organize, when it becomes impossible to do so without spending money? What role will social media play the next time people are being oppressed by a dictator, but must pay to have their voices heard?

Originally, the Internet was praised as an unrestrained cultural equalizer, but many media critics –myself included– have been doubtful of this being an inherent quality of the medium. All previous telecommunication technologies began as open, and to a certain extent decentralized, only to become closed and monopolized. The World Wide Web does feature a decentralized structure guided by open standards, but as a layer of new proprietary platforms is laid above it, such characteristics are being seriously suppressed.

During the early 1940s, techno-utopians predicted the end of the public school system, as we were all going to receive educational programming through our TVs. Spreading over the public airwaves, it was assumed that TV programming was going to serve the public good. We all know how the monetization of markets through advertising transformed traditional media. It became a cluster of monopolized systems where money equals speech, and where society is perceived as little more than a segmented group of consumers.

It saddens me to see that this is exactly the direction in which you’re taking Facebook. For all the talk about how creative and revolutionary new media is, it has not been very creative about its monetization paradigm. Instead, it is slowly becoming just another environment where the old rules apply; where commercial and corporate interests topple social ones, and where only the wealthy can afford to reach a large audience.

Being a commercial visual-communicator for over two decades, I have serious worries about how advertising has corrupted all previous media technologies. After a decade of teaching media literacy, my goal today is to use my skills and knowledge to generate awareness about the subject. I’ve practically abandoned my commercial practice to produce an independent documentary about the history, regulation and social effects of media.

I’ve gone from having savings and a steady income to having debt and uncertainty, but I believe the goal is worth the sacrifice.

According to the Facebook website, you also have a goal, and it is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”

I’m convinced that if there’s anyone in the world that has the talent, ability and resources to achieve this, it is you. Your livelihood is not at risk, so why are you compromising? Whatever sacrifices you may have to make, they’ll be worth it, as your goal is a noble one.

As an advertising tool, Facebook will still connect millions around the world, but only as a consequence of a different goal and guiding principle. A goal to monetize its user-base by managing, controlling and limiting the way people share and connect. The exact opposite of its stated mission. Please, do not let this happen.

I hope you can accept this letter as my way of providing honest, positive and constructive feedback. Be sure that, however you may choose to approach it, I still wish you all the best.

As for me, I’d like to see my little page working properly again. But more than anything, I’d love to see a new generation of leaders acting responsibly, with the greater good as their guiding principle. We need fewer billionaire CEOs pandering to shareholders, and a few more Jonas Salks.

Thanks in advance for your attention.

Yours truly,
Sergio Toporek
Director, Beware Of Images


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40 comments on “Open Letter To Mark Zuckerberg

  1. This is a great read; thanks for that. I will be teaching a media literacy course in Spring 2013, and I think I might want to list your words as reading for the class.
    Also, I’m reluctant to write this, but you did ask those who see typos to let you know. I think you have one here: I know that we live in an age of entitlement, which certainly accounts for many of the complains _ Did you mean to write “complaints?”

  2. Wonderful letter. Last paragraph: “As for me…working….” Missed the r in working. I totally agree with you.

  3. I found a typo. Seventh paragraph, second line: many of the complains you receive constantly–complains should be complaints. Is Mark even still associated with Facebook? I thought he sold it. Maybe this will be the one example in history where a corporate entity this large takes the higher ground.

  4. An excellent letter. Comes at the right time when we’re all sharing these same apprehensions about the course of FB. Thanks for writing it.

  5. Nice Sergio!
    Your class today was awesome and inspiring, as well as this letter! Thanks for trying to make the world a better and free place.

  6. Well put Sergio. It’s a sentiment shared by millions across the world.

    Really looking forward to your film.

    Keep it going!

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  9. stick spelling up your ass as long as the point is made , i pat all you grammar students on the head ,,, well done, your able to retain information so you can go out in the world and consume.

    I’m sure one mark Don’t give a shit two no doubt controlled by the military industrial complex so cant do shit and also most probably unlike you weirdos , doesn’t receive mail to pick apart the spelling and determine a reply from it

    we thank your ego of knowledge from the bottom of our hearts and thank you for knowing something before us , well done all of you

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  16. Nice letter,

    As you mentioned, large corporations have always managed to control the media platforms. They have the means ($), and they need those platforms to reach the people (who give them those means). So I think it’s cool that the letter is directed to Mr. Zuckerberg, but more important, these ideas should really reach each one of us. We made the corporations be so powerful by blindly following trends.

    well, I just wanted to say that the letter should also be read as an inner dialogue, not just as a complaint to Mr. Zuckerberg. Who probably does not care about any of these ideas. I might be wrong, but he does not strikes me as the Jonas Salks type.

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  19. You are right. Facebook is not part of the open Internet, it’s a walled garden. That’s why you have to take what you’re given there and it’s hard to find an alternative. That’s why people with a long view don’t build their communities or businesses in walled gardens. Remember Compuserve? AOL?

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  27. We can analyze and spin the numbers all we like, but the fact is that anyone who has been running several pages for 2 years or more can tell you that they know clear as day that FB has been radically and systematically undermining pages, trying to acclimate everyone to the pay-to-play paradigm, removing reach, and capability to engage with fans or build community for quite a while now. Everything they have done in that regard is to limit people and pages rather than enable. A simple unfiltered pages feed or tab would have worked since day one. For now the new page feed they are selling as flavor the month is just as filtered as the newsfeed is. I spend 6-8 hours a day developing on Facebook and it’s real clear. If you are a private individual or celebrity you may not care, but if you own a business and have invested in pages you do.

    The whole “cut down on spam argument” is disingenuous and corpo-spin. Many people are just as interested in what businesses have to say as what people have to say. They built the platform, got everyone on board the train, then dumped pages off the bridge converting them into pay-to-play. And perhaps they will convince a few, but it has angered so many business people big and small, that I have my doubts about the future of pages on FB for any other use than cats, politics or the most superficial tittilation type pages and posts void of substance.

    They were sublimely poised for emerging trend in content marketing and then blew it. It may well signal the watershed beginning of the end of pages, because when trust is gone, it’s good and gone, and who is going to invest precious time and resources in such an unreliable partner. They want to become the gatekeeper to what you see, and then be paid to allow folks to see what you have to say. If I wanted Network TV, I’d watch Network TV.

    The internet is a different animal, and people are swift to ditch something when they feel they have been had or being shown part of the picture. Why do they not offer the option of a completely unfiltered feed for both profiles and pages content, alongside their feed of what they want you to see and, and then let people decide what they want to choose. Technically it’s real easy on this platform. The simple answer is they don’t want to.

    I’m betting the vast majority of thinking people who use the platform to get informed vs play games want to see things unfiltered. Few people need the activity stream, and if some people do, I am sure an activity stream icon on the left panel would work just fine. If they serve one unfiltered feed for status, links, video and photo posts for profiles and another for pages I’m sure enough people will choose those most of the time.

    This is not the customary gripe about this or that feature. This is a fundamental betrayal of a partnership agreement with hundreds of thousands of business people. People say no one should complain cause it’s free. It’s not free if you as a page admin invested hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars, or hours, developing your page as a platform partner, paying Facebook ads along the way. After getting folks to invest massive amounts of time, energy and money all over the world to develop pages, and get fans, they have pulled the rug out from under them and instead of making things right they are spinning a yarn for sheep. These guys are ready to run for office for sure. They’ve got the whole self-delusion and BS thing down pretty pat. Or else Facebook doesn’t even use their own pages themselves and are clueless as to how they work.

    No one who manages a number of pages is duped by this let’s crunch the numbers and see approach except for the most novice. If you manage three pages or more you know it has nothing to do with engagement, content quality or anything else. They just turned us off to see how much we are willing to pay to get the lights turned back on. Or because like some philandering lover they have lost interest in our charms and just moved on. The most “perfectly designed to spec” posts, with pulitsaer prize hand-crafted compelling phrasing and a video go nowhere. Their spin is spin. This makes them a highly unreliable platform with which to partner, and they have lost most if not all trust and credibility they had with page admins. I doubt they will recoup significantly from this “last straw” and most of the developers I know are moving over to Google+ which seems a much more reliable partner.

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