In the Recode interview, Zuckerberg falls back on the term “use case” to describe people using Facebook Live to stream their own suicides in real time. He repeats this characterization, going on to call suicide-streaming a “use” of Facebook Live: “There were a small number of uses of this, but people were using it to…show themselves self-harm or there were even a few cases of suicide.”
Technically, he is right of course. A “use case” is defined as having three parts: “actors,” “system,” and “goals.” In this case, all three requirements are satisfied. The actor is a Facebook user. The system is Facebook Live. The goal is public suicide. Ah, yes, a “use case.”
But your first instinct when thinking about someone broadcasting their self-inflicted death to the world—on a platform you created—should not be to consider it in terms of an actor using a system to achieve a goal. It is, quite simply, a “tragedy.” Calling live-streaming suicide a “use case” is a way of talking about a terrible thing without confronting its emotional content. The language makes the act seem equivalent to the many other uses of Facebook Live, like showing people what funny thing your dog is doing.
The solution, then, is for Facebook to change its mindset. Until now, even Facebook’s positive steps—like taking down posts inciting violence, or temporarily banning the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones—have come not as the result of soul-searching, but of intense public pressure and PR fallout. Facebook only does the right thing when it’s forced to. Instead, it needs to be willing to sacrifice the goal of total connectedness and growth when this goal has a human cost; to create a decision-making process that requires Facebook leaders to check their instinctive technological optimism against the realities of human life.
Absent human considerations, Facebook will continue to bring thoughtless, banal harm to the world. The 2.5 billion people who use it, as part of their real lives, won’t put up with that forever.
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