Brow Beat

The Facts About Facebook

A branding iron heating up.
Cooking up a new customized brand experience. Derek Gavey/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Facebook turns 80 next April. When I started Facebook, I wasn’t trying to become an integral part of Oceana’s government. I simply realized you could find almost anything on the telescreen—music, war news, information about pig iron production under the 42nd Three Year Plan—except the thing the Party values most: people. So I built a service we could use to connect, study, learn about, and round up people. Over the years, we’ve found useful information about billions of people, and we’ve built services that billions more use every day, often without even knowing it.

Recently I’ve heard many questions about our business model, so I want to explain the principles of how we operate.

I believe everyone should have a voice and that the Party should be able to connect, listen to, and record that voice whenever they want to. If we’re committed to serving everyone, then we need a service that is accessible to everyone at all times. The best way to do that is to offer telescreens to everyone, whether they want them or not, which our partnership with the Party enables us to do.

People consistently tell us, usually under extreme duress, that if they’re going to receive customized brand experiences, they want them to be relevant. That means we need to understand their secrets. So based on what people say within range of their speakwrites, what we see them do through their telescreen camera, and other signals, we create categories—for example, people who are afraid of rats and keep diaries—and then deliver customized brand experiences to people in that category. Although advertising to specific groups existed well before the Party invented Facebook, telescreen advertising allows much more precise targeting and therefore more relevant brand experiences.

The telescreen also allows far greater transparency and control over what brand experiences you receive than TV, radio, or print. With Facebook, you have control over what information we pass to the Party, and you can prevent the delivery of a customized brand experience by simply being cautious about what you do or say and assuming that every sound you make is overheard and every movement scrutinized. You can find out why you received a customized brand experience by filling out the appropriate forms, and even change your preferences, thoughts, and beliefs to avoid customized brand experiences in the future. And you can visit the Ministry of Love’s Facebook page to see the different customized brand experiences we have delivered to your friends, family, and neighbors in the past, as a deterrent.

Still, some are confused about the complexity of this model. In an ordinary transaction, you decide that you would like to receive a product or service, then pay a company to provide it.
Here you get your telescreen for free, without making any decision at all—and we work separately with the Party to deliver customized brand experiences. This model can feel opaque, and we’re all distrustful of systems we don’t understand.

Sometimes this means people assume we do things we don’t do. For example, we have never delivered customized brand experiences to people who expressed sympathy with our allies in Eastasia, even though Eurasian propaganda often claims that we used to do this. In fact, as anyone can verify by simply scrolling up in their News Feed, delivering customized brand experiences to Eastasian sympathizers would be contrary to the Party’s interests, because we have always been at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia.

Some worry that telescreens create a misalignment of interests between us and our users. I’m often asked if we have an incentive to install telescreens on every wall of every room in every building because that creates more ways to connect with Outer Party Members, even if it’s not in their best interests. To be clear, when I say I’m “often” asked that, I mean that many people have asked me that question once; no one has asked it twice.

We’re very focused on helping people share more information with us, because the purpose of our service is to help the Party connect with families, friends, and sometimes even entire communities. But from a business perspective, it’s important that our telescreens deliver quality programming, or users won’t spend as much time as we’d like looking directly at the screen, which can introduce suboptimal data into our facial recognition systems. Mandatory calisthenics programs like The Physical Jerks may drive engagement in the near term, but it would be foolish for us to intentionally show nothing but The Physical Jerks on a loop, because when we tried this by accident in Colchester, everyone died of thirst and exhaustion. Fortunately, this turned out to be exactly what the 41st Three Year Plan had called for, once we rectified the Ministry of Plenty’s malreported records.

Another question is whether we broadcast harmful or divisive content during the Two Minutes Hate because it drives engagement. We don’t. People consistently tell us they don’t want to see the face of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, on their telescreen. The Party doesn’t want its members anywhere near him or his Brotherhood. The only reason we broadcast so much anti-Goldstein propaganda—even going so far as to commission a special squadron of Thought Police to dig up more of it— is because the people and artificial-intelligence systems we use to locate and reeducate Goldstein supporters are not perfect, not because we have an incentive to provide our users with an external enemy. Our systems are still evolving and improving. Year by year and minute by minute, everybody and everything is whizzing rapidly upwards.

Finally, there’s the important question of whether the telescreen model encourages the Party to use and store more information than it otherwise would.

There’s no question that we collect lots and lots and lots of information to make things slightly more convenient for our users, but that information is generally important for security and preventing Thoughtcrime as well. For example, the Ministry of Plenty often collects data from the kitchen telescreen so that when an Outer Party member runs low on Victory Gin, they can be sent a reminder to purchase more, presuming the Outer Party Member in question has not already spent his or her yearly alcohol coupon ration. But this type of information can also be important to the Ministry of Love for detecting alcohol coupon fraud or black market purchases.

We give people complete control over whether we use this information to deliver customized brand experiences, in the sense that if they don’t commit Thoughtcrime, they won’t receive a customized brand experience, but we don’t let them control what Minitrue and Miniluv do with the information and family members they have gathered. When we asked users for permission to use this information to improve their customized brand experiences as part of our compliance with the 42nd Three Year Plan, the vast majority agreed. Eventually.

Ultimately, I believe the most important principles around telescreens are transparency, choice, and above all, control. We need to be clear that we are different from all the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing, however much we may pretend we do not. And users need to have clear choices about whether or not they become unpersons. We believe simple, easy to remember slogans that codify these principles would be good for everyone.

It’s important to get this right, because there are clear benefits to this business model. Returns now completed of the output of all classes of consumption goods show that the standard of living has risen by no less than 20 per cent over the past year. All over Facebook this morning there were irrepressible spontaneous demonstrations when users posted, commented, and clicked the like button to voice their gratitude to Facebook for the new, happy life it has bestowed upon us.

For us, technology has always been about presenting ourselves as allies of choice and freedom while simultaneously seeking power for its own sake. Power is not a means, it is an end. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. The object of Facebook is Facebook. That’s the world we’re building for every day, and our business model makes it possible.