– Vancouver, Canada
Chris Cox, one of the first 15 engineers at Facebook, resigned in 2019. He wrote:
“For over a decade, I’ve been sharing the same message that Mark and I have always believed: Social media’s history is not yet written, and its effects are not neutral. It is tied up in the richness and complexity of social life. As its builders, we must endeavor to understand its impact—all the good, and all the bad—and take up the daily work of bending it towards the positive, and towards the good. This is our greatest responsibility,”
One phrase in Cox’s resignation deserves polemical attention:
“Social media’s history is not yet written,”
As an engineer and a designer, hearing a company state its history is not yet written, is alluring. My job is interesting because I rarely repeat the same work. Every day I’m faced with new obstacles I’m paid to overcome. So when a company says “our history is not yet written,” it reads as a quest into an exciting unknown. A quest asking me to cut down the next tree while being assured the empty forest in my wake will be better one day.
But in that reframing of truth lies the problem: When Facebook says “our history is not yet written,” they’re also saying “we’re not culpable for our actions.” Implying their actions have no history lets them don themselves, and their employees, in a cloak of plausible deniability until a future exists they’re proud of. Selling a “better future” is an expected corporate platitude. Intentionally ignoring your past, as Harry Frankfurt would say, is bullshit.
Furthermore, what history does Facebook claim is not yet written? A history where a white supremacist was inpart elected by ad slots sold by Facebook? A history where Zuckerberg chose inaction and enabled the spread of violence and hate? A history where Zuckerberg continued to chose inaction? In what future are we expected to wait for Facebook to decide their history begins?
To the workers at Facebook: There’s an inflection point in front of you. Most of you have the privilege to make a change. Facebook may want you to believe history is not yet written, but yours can start today.