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Facebook股价大跌,原因竟是不会说话?

Jeff John Roberts 2018年07月31日

Facebook之所以屡屡被人从道德层面上挑毛病,甚至导致股价大跳水,和以扎克伯格为代表的Facebook高管喜爱使用大白话不无关系。

“(当权者)要么有意义但不会表达,要么他无心地说了什么别的话,要么就是对他的话是否意义,几乎毫不关心。”

这句名言来自乔治·奥威尔的《政治与英语》。本文用“当权者”代替了原文中的“作家”二字,因为奥威尔自然是不会拿马克·扎克伯格当讽刺对象的了。不过这句名言套在扎克伯格身上却合适。因为放眼整个企业界,几乎找不到第二家公司运用语言的能力比Facebook还差了。

在企业界日趋内卷化的当下,企业偏爱口语化表达并不是什么新现象,也绝非Facebook一家的毛病。不过Facebook却因为这个毛病而招来了不少麻烦。Facebook之所以屡屡被人从道德层面上挑毛病,甚至导致股价大跳水,与以扎克伯格为代表的Facebook高管喜爱使用大白话不无关系。

譬如,扎克伯格总是坚称,Facebook并非一家媒体公司。但Facebook作为一个全球性的广播渠道,它的观众比地球上的任何一家电视台都多,而且它也鲸吞了大量原本属于传统媒体行业的广告收入。然而在今年4月出席美国国会听证会时,扎克伯格却依然不肯承认Facebook是一家媒体公司这一赤裸裸的事实。

他对国会山的议员们表示:“我认为我们是一家科技公司。”很多观察人士的解读是,扎克伯格试图逃避Facebook在“通俄门”风波中作为一家媒体、视频和其他媒体提供商的责任。

这招“四两拨千金”不仅让我们想起那一年,某大型能源公司的CEO在石油泄露事故后,轻描淡写地说了句:“我们不是一家石油公司。”Facebook对舆论的污染,其实不亚于这家石油公司对环境的污染,只不过Facebook“排放”的是假新闻、水军和阴谋论。以Facebook的规模,它的影响可以说是个超级“大毒草”。如果扎克伯格真想把负面影响洗刷干净,不妨从承认Facebook是一家媒体公司开始。

奥威尔所谓“恶劣语言”的另一个例子,是Facebook动辄以“社区”当挡箭牌,遮掩一些显然违反道德的错误行为。比如最近,Facebook高管便以所谓“社区标准”为由,放任二战大屠杀否认者和InfoWars等臭名昭著的阴谋论网站在其平台上频频发声。

扎克伯格本人经常祭出“社区”的大旗,给Facebook对处置错误言论的犹豫不决当借口。但正如社会学家泽伊内普·图费克奇所指出的,扎克伯格首先应该解释一下,Facebook的20亿用户来自五湖四海,怎么可能用“社区”两个字就能定义了呢?

我曾建议Facebook好好研究一下,“社区”对该公司的意义究竟是什么,奈何人微言轻。一位发言表示,Facebook在“安全、平等、发声”和 “心怀社区”的基础上制定了指导原则。我请她解释一下,10亿人凭什么可以被定义成一个“社区”,她只是建议我再参考一下公司的指导原则。

《纽约时报》的专栏作家法尔哈德·曼基奥总结道,Facebook的声明政策是完全没有任何意义的。他在评价扎克伯格对二战大屠杀否认者的有关言论时写道:“所有这些都没能通过一个基本的考试:它甚至没有连贯性,只不过是一堆声明、免责声明和例外条款的大杂烩罢了。”

这种情况不仅令人失望,更重要的是,它在一定程序上剥夺了我们的选择权和自主权。扎克伯格的“社区论”,将我们搁到了同一个社区里,这个社区里有你,有我,有水军,有煽动仇恨者,当然,还有那些否认二战大屠杀的人。稍有常识的人都不愿意成为这样的一个社区的一分子。在多数人看来,所谓“人以类聚,物以群分”,社区是持有相同价值观的人的群体。然而在扎克伯格看来,这个词显然另有所指。

作家卡瑞娜·乔卡诺阿指出:“像Facebook这样的平台号称是为了‘创建社区’而存在,然而实际上却利用了社区,为那些社区以外的人(如企业界、战略公关界、摩尔多瓦的黑客圈等等)谋取利益。他们邀请成员进行‘参与’,但却不邀请成员共同决策。最大的利益、最大的权力,仍然是归私人所有。”

如果扎克伯格坚持使用“社区”这个词,那他至少要做出一些艰难的抉择——决定谁是这个社区的一员,谁则不属于这个社区。这样的决定,应该基于法律、道德和哲学做出,而不是由一个公关团队仓促拼凑出的一篇大杂烩。

本月,在Facebook供职多年的高管艾利克斯·斯塔莫斯在他的离职信中也表明了同样的观点。斯塔莫斯用非常坦率浅显的语言表示,Facebook当前的窘境,恰恰是公司这种“小事精明、大事糊涂”的毛病造成的。他还呼吁Facebook进行改革:“在明显的道德问题或人道主义问题上,我们必须敢于选边站队。”此信首先发表于新闻网站BuzzFeed。(斯塔莫斯曾任Facebook首席信息安全官。)

如果扎克伯格想带领Facebook度过眼前的“道德危机”,他至少要在语言、思想和行为上表现出清晰性,摒弃奥威尔所谓的“语言垃圾”,用清晰的语言跟Facebook用户说话。(财富中文网)

译者:朴成奎 

“The [executive] either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not.”

The quote is from Politics and the English Language and while George Orwell never made Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg his object of scorn—the original reads “writer” in place of “executive”—he would have been right to do so. More than any other company today, Facebook has a freakish inability to use words.

Facebook’s penchant for verbal nonsense is neither new nor particularly unique in a corporate world that loves self-interested spin. But today, that habit is driving a crisis of trust engulfing the Silicon Valley company. The failure of its executives, particularly co-founder Zuckerberg, to speak in plain, candid language during earnings calls and other appearances is a big reason that Facebook can’t escape the moral quagmire that led to an overnight plunge in its lofty stock price.

Want an example of Facebook’s failure with words? Begin with Zuckerberg’s bizarre insistence that he doesn’t run a media company. Facebook has long operated a global broadcast channel with more viewers than any television station on the planet, and has gobbled much of the advertising revenue once enjoyed by traditional media outlets. Yet in testifying before Congress in April, Zuckerberg again would not concede the obvious proposition that Facebook is a media company.

“I consider us to be a technology company,” he told lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Many observers interpreted the response as an attempt to shirk responsibility for Facebook’s role as a purveyor of news, video, and other media in the wake of Russian interference in U.S. elections.

Such prevarications are akin to the CEO of a large energy company declaring, when confronted with a massive spill: “We’re not an oil company.” In Facebook’s case, the company pumps its own pollution in the form of fake news, troll armies, and conspiracy theories. At Facebook’s scale, it amounts to a massive sludge of toxic media. If Zuckerberg truly hopes to clean it up, he can start by admitting he’s in the media business.

Another example of what Orwell called “debased language” is Facebook’s invocation of “the community” to justify behavior that is abhorrent and wrong. Most recently, executives muttered about “community standards” in a limp defense of why Facebook allows Holocaust deniers or the noxious conspiracy site InfoWars to flourish on its platform.

Zuckerberg himself has invoked “the community” over and over to explain Facebook’s foot-dragging. But as sociologist Zeynep Tufekci pointed out, Zuckerberg has failed to explain how the 2 billion people who use Facebook can possibly be defined as a community.

I called Facebook to learn more about what “community” means to the company, to little avail. A spokesperson said Facebook develops guidelines “with the community in mind” and on the basis of “safety, equity, and voice.” I asked the spokesperson to explain how a billion people can be “a community” and she simply referred me back to the guidelines.

The exchange underscored why New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo has concluded that Facebook’s stated policies make no sense. “All of this fails a basic test: It’s not even coherent. It is a hodgepodge of declarations and exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions,” Manjoo wrote while describing Zuckerberg’s verbal contortions about Holocaust deniers using the service.

The incoherence is frustrating but, worse, it’s disempowering. When Zuckerberg defends Facebook’s latest outrage in the name of the community, it puts all of us in that community—you and me and the trolls and the hate-mongers and yes, the Holocaust deniers. No decent person wants to be part of such a community. Most see a community as a group of people who share similar values and with whom they choose to identify. To Zuckerberg, the word apparently means something else.

“Platforms like Facebook, which exist for the express purpose of ‘creating community,’ turn out to be in the business of exploiting the communities they’ve created for the benefit of those outside (the business community, the strategic communications community, the Moldovan hacker community),” explains writer Carina Chocanoa. “They invite members to ‘participate,’ but not, in the end, to make decisions together; the largest rewards, and the greatest powers, stay private.”

If Zuckerberg wants to cling to the word “community,” he will have to make some hard decisions about who is part of that community and who is not. Such a decision should be informed by law and ethics and philosophy—not a slapdash jumble of words compiled by his public relations team.

In a remarkable farewell letter this month, a longtime Facebook executive, Alex Stamos, made this very point. Using blunt and very understandable language, Stamos attributed the company’s current predicament to thousands of small decisions and called for a change. “We need to be willing to pick sides when there are clear moral or humanitarian issues,” Stamos wrote in the letter, first published by BuzzFeed. (Stamos served as chief information security officer at Facebook.)

That clarity—of words and thoughts and deeds—is what’s needed from Zuckerberg if he wants to lift his company out of the moral muck. One way to start would be for him to jettison what Orwell called “lump[s] of verbal refuse” and speak to Facebook users in clear English.

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