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Justin Rosenstein and Chris Cox on fixing Facebook

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Last year, when a series of former Facebook executives came forward to reveal misgivings about the wo
 
March 28 · Issue #107 · View online
The Interface
Last year, when a series of former Facebook executives came forward to reveal misgivings about the world that social media had created, few names resonated more loudly than Justin Rosenstein’s. Rosenstein, who helped to develop the Like button at Facebook and previously worked on Gmail chat at Google, told The Guardian that he had taken several steps to eliminate social media distractions in his life, including limiting his time on Facebook and “banning himself from Snapchat.” “It is very common,” Rosenstein told the newspaper in October, “for humans to develop things with the best of intentions and for them to have unintended, negative consequences.”
Half a year later, Rosenstein says he’s bringing his ideas about digital distractions into his current product. Rosenstein is the co-founder and head of product at Asana, which makes software for tracking work via to-do lists, Trello-like boards, and other tools. Today the company, which raised an additional $75 million in January and is now valued at $900 million, is announcing a new tool: Timeline, which lets workers quickly create and modify Gantt charts based on the data they’ve already put into Asana.
As a successful gambit to get me to write about Gantt charts, Asana offered Justin up for an interview about social media and his recent comments about its effect on our lives. You can read the whole thing here, but here’s the key exchange:
Is social media good or bad?
I think it’s good for the world on balance. The question is so complicated, it’s hard to compute. But the good parts of social media have become so taken for granted that we’ve stopped praising them. And the bad parts, people are starting to see for the first time. So people are like, “Oh, it’s all terrible.” That’s a very unbalanced perspective.
You look at the #MeToo movement. That’s named after a hashtag. It’s this really important social movement that spread on the wings of social media. A hugely important, civilization-level conversation — millions of people in a week. That’s incredible! People weren’t like, “Wow, Facebook, you’re amazing.” They’re just like, “Of course you can do that these days.” [But] that wasn’t possible 10 years ago. All these stories I hear — people reconnecting with lost loved ones, grandparents staying in touch with their children. Jared Cohen at the State Department said that Facebook’s mere existence in its first five years did more to help with relations between Arabs and Israelis than 30 years of coordinated attempts by the CIA. This really basic stuff you get from connectivity is so powerful … but people just take that for granted at this point.
Then you do have distraction, filter bubbles, polarization, information privacy, and a lot of problems social media needs to fix. And I’m hopeful. I think these are all fixable problems. You look at industries like tobacco. The difference between this and tobacco: no matter how you package that product, it’s harmful. Whereas social media, if done the right way, if we have a commitment to making sure the content we’re showing people is relevant to them, if we’re only sending notifications when something is actually timely and important, the potential is for the pie chart to move very much in the positive direction.
“There are solutions to these things,” Rosenstein told me during our chat. Today, Facebook offered up a couple. First, it took a step to make privacy tools easier to find. Here’s my colleague Ashley Carman:
Most obviously, the privacy settings page now features shortcuts with images to make it easier to navigate, particularly on mobile. Users can enable two-factor authentication, control what they share or have shared, manage who can see their posts, and learn more about their ad preferences.
The company’s also launching a new page called “Access Your Information,” on which users can further evaluate the information they’ve shared and manage it. From there, they can delete anything from their timeline or profile that they don’t want on Facebook.
Cox suggested that Facebook will continue to heavily rely on data for its products and services. “We want to understand which data is giving people great experiences in ads, feed, search, messaging, and relevance systems,” Cox said. “On top of that, we should be clear about how data is used, and offer easy ways to control it.”
So far, Facebook has only made a few tiny tweaks in response to the Cambridge Analytica crisis. It’s yet to be seen whether it will simply refurbish the facade of its platform, or if it will rebuild its services from the ground up. Referring to the Wednesday’s privacy center announcement, Cox indicated said additional steps are on the way. “It’s just a small step,” he said. “There’s more to come.”
“If data isn’t helping people, we shouldn’t use it,” Cox says elsewhere in the piece. It’s a philosophical departure from the company’s historic stance of “if data is available, we should build features around it.” The question is now what counts as “helping” people — and to what extent the people being “helped” will have any say in the matter.

The person behind the Like button says software is wasting our time - The Verge
It’s Time to Make Our Privacy Tools Easier to Find | Facebook Newsroom
Facebook responds to privacy crisis by making privacy tools easier to find - The Verge
Democracy
Facebook Is Getting Grilled In India As Elections Draw Near
The platforms are the problem: The fight against digital disinformation gets $10 million from the Hewlett Foundation
Peter Thiel Employee Helped Cambridge Analytica Before It Harvested Data
The Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower Wanted His New Company To Work With Trump Campaign’s Manager
Trump hates Amazon, not Facebook
Elsewhere
Facebook Delays Home-Speaker Unveil Amid Data Crisis
Amid Uproar, Facebook Considers Privacy Safeguards for Smart-Home Devices
Facebook temporarily blocks new apps from joining its platform
Facebook Secretly Saved Videos Users Deleted
#DeleteFacebook? Get Ready for Joy, Despair, Agony, Relief
A Friendly Reminder That Instagram Uses All Your Facebook Data
Playboy deletes its Facebook accounts
She says Facebook brainwashed her husband – he disagrees
Snapchat is building the same kind of data-sharing API that just got Facebook into trouble  - Recode
Snapchat tests 'Connected Apps' as people choose to delete Facebook
MSU spent $500K to monitor social media from Nassar victims, others
Launches
Bringing Local News Section, Today In, to More US Cities
Takes
Mark Zuckerberg Is Just Doing What He'd Have Been Forced to Do
Can Social Media Be Saved?
What worries me about AI
Dreaming of a Spotless Social Media Timeline? The Solutions Are Far From Ideal - The New York Times
And finally ...
Guardian reporter Olivia Solon had a novel way of reducing her time spent using a smartphone:
Olivia Solon
My husband’s ingenious idea: a screensaver for cutting back on cellphone use https://t.co/tTJwv9GpdU
11:05 PM - 27 Mar 2018
Talk to me
Questions? Comments? Privacy settings? casey@theverge.com
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