In case you’ve missed them over the years, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made it a habit of setting a “personal challenge” for each new year. They have ranged from learning Mandarin to eating only meat from animals he had killed himself.
This year, Zuckerberg announced 2018 will be the year he devotes himself to these following issues:
“The world feels anxious and divided, and Facebook has a lot of work to do — whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent . . . My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues.”
Zuckerberg acknowledged that far from decentralizing power, technology platforms (including social media channels) have given citizens a sense that power lies with the platform owners. And little wonder why many people have that perception, considering that Facebook and a small band of Silicon Valley giants are now the largest spenders on lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C.
Looking back on the battering Facebook endured during 2017, this new goal of Zuckerberg’s smacks more of saving his company than “self-improvement.”
It is clear that the social network lost its way, as the Menlo Park-based company struggled with missteps, such as being embroiled in accusations it was part of the Russia-driven “fake news” scandal. Not only has the company seen trust in its brand suffer, but any talk of Zuck (or Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg) standing a chance as a presidential contender in 2020 has shut down.
Add the fact that some former Facebook executives and employees are saying they now regret the roles they had in building a company that many now say is tearing people apart, and the company once seen as invincible and indispensable to many is now viewed as arrogant and toxic.
Clearly, Zuckerberg and his company needs to repair the damage to its reputation, which he attributes to “too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools,” as in the company’s confusing policy monitoring hate speech.
Zuckerberg’s colleagues, of course, cheered him on after last week’s announcement. “Grateful as ever for your leadership and look forward to working with you and our colleagues on these important issues this year,” replied Sandberg to his post.
Other respondents were not so sanguine on Zuckerberg’s drive to “fix our issues together.”
“Here’s a thought. Your ‘community’ is destroying relationships, causing severe depression, promoting a 1-sided belief system. You say you’re bringing people together, what you’re doing is opening a divide in the people in this world.”
“To me the question is how could Putin so successfully use Facebook to influence US elections and how to self regulate so Facebook is not ever again a tool to destroy the world and values we treasure.”
“The first 4 words of Facebook’s mission statement are ‘Give people the power’, but the full statement is actually “give people the power after they pay us to promote their pages and posts.”
In fairness to Facebook, it is easy to forget the company at first was a master at bringing people who are time zones apart closer together, while generating copious revenues: over $10 billion in net profit last fiscal year, in fact. The problem, however, is while Facebook was preaching “community,” its executives and legal team were working in the shadows to ensure it would be simply left alone as a simple technology platform – not as a complicated media company.
Facebook wanted to profit off of political campaigns and news trends while avoiding any of the responsibilities associated with running political advertisements. Just a few years ago, Facebook was bullish on the prospect that it would be the most important arena in which to fight out U.S. elections, and the evidence suggests the plan came to fruition in 2016. “That was exactly what happened, and it is viewed by many as a disaster,” wrote Ben Smith for Buzzfeed.
Now the company and its CEO are feeling remorseful, but it will take far more than a year of reflection for Facebook to find a way to course-correct. And it will have to rebuild this trust while satisfying its investors with impressive returns. The bottom line is that the company will have a lot of needle-threading to do during 2018. As summed up on Axios, “Facebook wants to use as little editorial judgment as possible in weeding out crap on its platform, to avoid becoming a media company — a business with much smaller margins and greater legal liability.”
Image credit: Anthony Quintano/Flickr