The past few years have seen a merging of the personal and professional in the Facebook founder’s annual goals, but the execution has a left a little to be desired amid increased company scrutiny.
5 min read
Every January, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posts his annual resolution for the year. Based on this year’s promise, cracks have seemed to emerge in the practice.
The social behemoth has become further scrutinized by both users and lawmakers for its mishandling of user data as well as issues around privacy and the spreading of political misinformation. Zuckerberg and his leadership team have been called upon to take responsibility and to be transparent about what it is that Facebook is actually doing to take these concerns seriously.
As this narrative has grown over the years, that’s meant that there has been a marked difference in the kind of goals Zuckerberg has resolved to take on.
In 2015, he started a book club. In 2016 he vowed to run 365 miles in a year. In 2017, Zuckerberg promised to visit every state on a listening tour that some pundits briefly thought was signaling a future run for office, though that talk has stopped. At the start of 2018, the personal and professional merged even more, with Zuckerberg pledging to focus all his energy on fixing the issues that have become glaringly apparent on Facebook.
“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,” he wrote. “My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues.”
But when the extent of the Cambridge Analytica scandal became apparent in March, 2018 became more tumultuous than the year before.
Which brings us to the present. As of the quarter ending October 2018, Facebook wasn’t adding any new users in the U.S. and Canada and was down a million users in the E.U., likely in part due to increased privacy regulations there. In September, Instagram saw significant growth, but founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger left Facebook amid rumors they were clashing with Zuckerberg. Just this week, with shares down 36 percent from the summer, analysts are predicting that the company will continue to struggle in 2019.
So what’s on the docket for this year?
“Last year, I focused almost all my time on addressing important issues around elections, speech, privacy, and well-being. Facebook is a different company now than it was a couple of years ago because of a much greater focus on these questions. These issues are complex and we will continue focusing on them for years to come,” Zuckerberg wrote. “My challenge for 2019 is to host a series of public discussions about the future of technology in society — the opportunities, the challenges, the hopes, and the anxieties. Every few weeks I’ll talk with leaders, experts, and people in our community from different fields and I’ll try different formats to keep it interesting. These will all be public, either on my Facebook or Instagram pages or on other media.”
On the one hand, it’s a nice idea to try and unpack some of these lofty questions, and it’s comforting in some way to see that even someone as high profile as Mark Zuckerberg can be as vaguely well-meaning about the execution of a not-completely-realized New Year’s Resolution as the rest of us. On the other hand, he’s kind of stuck for the foreseeable future. Because if he were to go back the personal wellness resolutions of yore, those optics would not be great.
“This will be intellectually interesting, but there’s a personal challenge for me here too. I’m an engineer, and I used to just build out my ideas and hope they’d mostly speak for themselves. But given the importance of what we do, that doesn’t cut it anymore,” Zuckerberg admitted. “So I’m going to put myself out there more than I’ve been comfortable with and engage more in some of these debates about the future, the tradeoffs we face, and where we want to go.”
Getting out of one’s comfort zone is commendable. But the issues that Facebook are dealing with clearly aren’t just confined to the trash heap of 2018. They are, as he says, complex and something that the company has to focus on for years to come. If that’s the case, then part of the 2019 resolution should be unpacking just that, rather than a one-line sentence the frames it as something in the rear view. It makes Zuckerberg look disingenuous, especially if his aim is to think about questions of technology and how it will shape our future. The mistakes Facebook have made are an integral part of that.
As the old saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Read Zuckerberg’s full post below.