- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says his “goal for this next decade isn’t to be liked, but to be understood.”
- The social network is adopting a more aggressive posture as it enters 2020, which is expected to bring new controversies for the company.
- The 34-year-old billionaire CEO hinted at battles Facebook is likely to face — including over encryption, political polarization, and critiques of targeted advertising.
- Zuckerberg said he’s determined to “stand up” for what the company believes in, “and “we’re going to focus more on communicating our principles.”
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2020 is going to be a tough year for Facebook. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg wants the world to know he’s not afraid to fight back.
Facebook has entered the new decade in strong financial health but bruised by years of scandals, that have transformed its once-buzzy public image into a punching bag for everyone from right-wing politicians to human rights campaigners.
On Wednesday, Facebook announced its financial results for the fourth quarter of 2019, and on a subsequent call with analysts, Zuckerberg made a pledge: “My goal for this next decade isn’t to be liked, but to be understood.”
Historically, explained the 35-year-old billionaire, Facebook had “worried about offending people,” resulting in “positive but shallow sentiment” about the company. But going forward, he said, the social network is going to “focus more on communicating our principles” and making clear what it stands for.
It is debatable as to whether historic positive sentiment about Facebook was a result of the company being noncommittal, rather than a failure by broader society to appreciate the negative externalities caused by Facebook’s deficient approach to content moderation and data security. But regardless, the message Zuckerberg is sending is clear: Facebook knows there’s more trouble coming, and it’s not going to back down.
Zuckerberg framed this resolve as a fight for values:
“We’re going to focus more on communicating our principles, whether that’s standing up for giving people a voice against those who would censor people who don’t agree with them, standing up for letting people build their own communities against those who say that new types of communities forming on social media is dividing us, standing up for encryption against those who say privacy mostly helps bad people, standing up for giving small businesses more opportunity and sophisticated tools against those who say targeted advertising is a problem, or standing up for serving every person in the world against those who say you have to pay a premium in order to really be served.”
The remarks hint at multiple fights Facebook may find itself embroiled in over the next year: Against authoritarian governments’ pressure to take down material, against critics raising concerns about radicalisation and polarization caused by social media, against the US government (and other governments around the world) that has repeatedly signaled its displeasure with the use of encryption to secure users’ messages, and against ongoing concerns from some about the effects of online advertising.
There are also other, unacknowledged threats on the horizon in 2020 — including the growing risk of antitrust action against the company, ongoing accusations of political bias (from both the left and the right), and the possibility of further scandals relating to the company’s (historic or current) content moderation or data security policies.
Standing firm may be an effective strategy for Facebook for some of these issues. When it comes to antitrust, for example, US regulators have earned a reputation for having more bark than bite. So pushing back is not an unreasonable gambit for Facebook.
In other areas however, Zuckerberg’s tough guy strategy carries a real risk of backfiring. After the 2016 US Presidential Elections, Zuckerberg famously dismissed the notion that Facebook bore any responsibility for the misinformation that was planted on the social network and designed to help Donald Trump win the presidency.
Those comments continue to haunt Zuckerberg to this day.
In fact, moments before striking his defiant tone on Wednesday’s conference call, Zuckerberg acknowledged the mistakes in made in the last election. “We were behind in 2016,” Zuckerberg said.
Here are Mark Zuckerberg’s full comments, via a copy of his prepared remarks:
We’re also focused on communicating, more clearly, what we stand for.
One critique of our approach for much of the last decade was that because we wanted to be liked, we didn’t always communicate our views as clearly because we worried about offending people. This led to positive but shallow sentiment towards us and towards the company.
My goal for this next decade isn’t to be liked, but to be understood. In order to be trusted, people need to know what you stand for.
So we’re going to focus more on communicating our principles — whether that’s standing up for giving people a voice against those who would censor people who don’t agree with them, standing up for letting people build their own communities against those who say that new types of communities forming on social media is dividing us, standing up for encryption against those who say privacy mostly helps bad people, standing up for giving small businesses more opportunity and sophisticated tools against those who say targeted advertising is a problem, or standing up for serving every person in the world against those who say you have to pay a premium in order to really be served.
These positions aren’t always going to be popular, but I think it’s important for us to take these debates head on. I know that there are a lot of people who agree with these principles, and there are whole a lot more who are open to them and want to see these arguments get made. So expect more of that this year.
Do you work at Facebook? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via encrypted messaging app Signal at (+1) 650-636-6268 using a non-work device, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, Telegram or WeChat at robaeprice, or Twitter DM at @robaeprice. (PR pitches by email only, please.)
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