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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said this week the company will create an oversight board to help with content moderation. The move is a belated acknowledgement Zuckerberg is out of its depth when it comes to ethics and policy, and comes six months after he first floated the idea of “a Supreme Court … made up of independent folks who don’t work for Facebook.”
The idea is a good one. If carried out properly, a “Supreme Court” could help Facebook begin fixing the toxic stew of propaganda, racism, and hate that is poisoning so much of our political and cultural discourse.
But how would a Facebook Supreme Court actually work? Zuckerberg has offered few details beyond saying it will function something like an appeals court, and may publish some of its decisions. Meanwhile, legal scholars in the New York Times have suggested it must be be open, independent and representative of society.
As for who should sit on it, it’s easy to imagine a few essential attributes for the job: The right person should be tech savvy, familiar with law and policy, and sensitive to diversity. Based on those attributes, here are five people that Facebook should select if it is serious about creating an independent Supreme Court.
A Turkish sociologist and computer programmer, Tufekci was one of the first to raise the alarm about the moral and political dangers of social media platforms. She is a public intellectual of the internet age, using forums like the New York Times and Harvard’s Berkman Center to denounce Silicon Valley’s failure to be accountable for the discord it’s fostered. Tufecki has also taken aim at Facebook’s repeated use of “the community“—a term that is meaningless to describe 2 billion users—to defend its policies.
An iconoclast who has built several public companies, Thiel is also a lawyer who started the venture capital firm Founders Fund. A gay conservative and a supporter of Donald Trump, Thiel is deeply unpopular with Silicon Valley’s liberal elites—which is why his appointment would ensure ideological diversity on Facebook’s Supreme Court. Thiel is an early investor in Facebook and a longtime board member, which gives him a deep knowledge of the company. He would have to give up these positions to preserve the body’s independence.
Judge Lucy Koh
Koh has presided over numerous high-profile technology trials and is highly regarded in Silicon Valley. Her work as a federal judge includes the long-running patent trial between Apple and Samsung, as well as a case involving an antitrust conspiracy between Google, Adobe, and other firms. Her work on the bench and inspiring personal biography made her the subject of a flattering 2015 Bloomberg profile. Koh’s familiarity with the political and legal strategies of tech giants would provide invaluable expertise for Facebook’s Supreme Court (provided federal ethics rules permitted her to do so).
Tim Berners Lee
Sir Berners Lee is a computer science professor at Oxford University and MIT, who is best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. Highly regarded in tech circles for his humility and vast knowledge, Berners Lee in recent years has become a vocal critic of the advertiser-based business models of the Silicon Valley tech giants. Appointing him to Facebook’s Supreme Court would show the company is serious about fixing its systemic problems with privacy.
Bozoma Saint John
Saint John, who was raised in Ghana, became a familiar name in tech circles when she became Apple’s head of music marketing after the company acquired her former employer Beats. She also worked at Uber before moving to the talent agency Endeavour. Saint John’s outspoken views on Silicon Valley’s white male culture would help inform Facebook’s Supreme Court in tackling hard issues of diversity.
They are young. They are driven. They are pragmatic. They crave financial stability. They won’t put away their laundry no matter how many times I ask them.
Okay, that last sentence may just refer to the two adorable Gen Zs who happen to be my offspring. But, this next group has just started to hit the workforce (the oldest are 23), and will undoubtedly be the topic of much discussion. (We really should shut up about Millennials, because as the oldest of that group approaches 40, we should realize that many have moved into middle management, and are making the policies now.)
Less likely to be risk takers (but that’s good and bad)
Gen Z high school seniors are less likely to have tried alcohol and had sex than their previous generations of the same age. That shows responsibility. But they are also less likely to have a driver’s license, which shows caution and a dependence on others.
In theory, this is because they spend so much time on their smartphones that they don’t need to leave the house to interact with peers. That keeps teen sex from happening and alcohol consumption down.
It also means they haven’t had as much experience dealing face to face with people and problems. When you’re texting, you can just walk away, but getting up and walking out of a meeting is rude and inappropriate. You may have to do some general coaching of how to behave in groups, especially where it’s not structured, like at a conference, when there is free time. You may also want to increase your text communications rather than face to face. It’s what they are used to.
Gen Z isn’t interested in self-employment, but they are interested in finances.
They want financial security, 82 percent of college freshmen prioritize becoming well off. Only 36 percent of their grandparents made that a priority in 1970.
They aren’t, though, terribly interested in gaining that financial security through starting their own company. This means they may be more interested in staying put and working their way up the ladder. As the oldest Gen Zs are only 23, how this plays out in the working world remains to be seen, but they don’t espouse the desire to break out on their own right now.
This goes along with their lower risk tolerance (see above). A job gives you a steady paycheck while starting your own company has lots of risks.
Gen Z is also less willing to take on college debt. They’ve seen the damage of their parents and older siblings. It’s still a high amount–47 percent of freshman took on loans in 2016, but it’s a considerable drop from 53 percent in 2009.
This means your benefits may need to change. Companies that offer loan forgiveness may have to look towards other methods to attract the best and the brightest.
They are more diverse than previous generations.
Gen Z understands diversity of race because they’ve lived it. There are far more Hispanic Gen Z’s than there were in Gen X or Millennials. And a lot more “others.” That other isn’t defined but could be made up largely of mixed race people.
What does this mean? Well, they grew up with their classmates looking different. In addition to race, they also have grown up with very different attitudes towards homosexuality and sexuality in general. In other words, diversity is part of their life experience.
This, of course, will vary from location to location, as demographics vary wildly, but don’t be surprised when their normal is your company diversity goal.
They are still just people.
Remember, it’s important not to let the “group” overshadow the individual. You need to talk to the individual to understand what is important to that person and what that person needs, not just assume that everyone under 23 is the same.
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