Home Science Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s birthday: More “Division” now than for a long time

Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s birthday: More “Division” now than for a long time

5 min read

At an event celebrating Facebook’s 13th birthday, Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg talk about the world’s tensions, Facebook Groups and, um, littering.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, two of the most influential people in Silicon Valley, haven’t been shy about speaking out since President Donald Trump took office.

When Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 27 temporarily banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Zuckerberg was one of the first tech CEOs to comment, offering up a pointed rebuke on his Facebook page. Sandberg, who was initially criticized for remaining silent, eventually followed suit with a missive on her page. On Wednesday, she spoke about the political climate during an onstage interview at a conference.

Earlier this week, they also alluded to recent tensions in the world while meeting a small group of everyday Facebook users invited to the company’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters for what they billed as “Friends Day.”

“This is a time in the world where there’s more division than there has been in a while,” Zuckerberg, in his standard gray T-shirt and jeans, said Tuesday. “That means that connecting with friends and bringing groups together is probably more important now than it ever has been, or has been in a very long time.”

How intimate was the setting? The room was set up with about 20 colorful chairs configured in a circle, with Zuckerberg and Sandberg at different times leading the discussion. About six media outlets were invited to watch (although we weren’t invited to ask questions during the proceedings).

For Friends Day, a gathering to celebrate Facebook’s 13th birthday on February 4, the company invited people from across the world who use Facebook Groups to talk about what they’re doing with the platform. Two men with amputated legs represented a support group for other amputees. Three attendees were from Girls Love Travel, a group that helps women safely organize trips. Two women were from a group that tries to help people of color with mental illness. One guy has a group for runners who pick up trash along the way.

Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, had a similar message to Zuckerberg’s.

“It’s obviously a challenging time for our country and our world,” she said. “Things feel divisive, they feel scary. A lot of people feel like their voices aren’t being heard. And they’re really afraid… I think all of us feel kind of unsettled.”

But while Facebook’s leaders lightly touched on how divided the world has become, in recent months the social network has been accused of helping to stoke that division. After the US presidential election in November, Facebook was criticized for creating so-called “filter bubbles,” causing people to have a distorted view of what’s happening in the world. That’s because the world’s largest social network has a news feed that’s designed to show you stuff you’re likely to be interested in, so the argument goes that you’re probably seeing things that already align with your political viewpoints. (The Wall Street Journal has highlighted this divide with a feature called “Blue Feed, Red Feed.”)

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