It’s time to fix Facebook-Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sets a personal challenge each year, a kind of public New Year’s resolution that he posts about all year long.

A few years ago he set out to learn Mandarin. He also built a robot butler for his home. Last year, he toured America to spend more time with regular citizens (who were also likely Facebook users).

Zuckerberg’s goal this year: Fix Facebook and make the world a better place.

Zuckerberg has been very philosophical over the past 12 months, regularly posting about his greater ambitions for tech and Facebook in particular. This time, Zuckerberg talked about the importance of “centralization vs decentralization” in tech — in other words, who is benefitting from tech’s tremendous power.

Facebook, of course, is one of those “big tech companies” with an immense amount of power. Not only does the company help shape the news for more than two billion people worldwide, but it controls a massive share of the global digital advertising market, which is making it difficult for smaller companies, including media companies, to survive.

It’s a sharp change of direction since 2016 when Zuckerberg dismissed the idea that hoax news stories shared on Facebook could have influenced the outcome of the US presidential election. Speaking at the annual Techonomy conference near San Francisco, the CEO called the notion a “pretty crazy idea”.

Mark Zuckerberg

Every year I take on a personal challenge to learn something new. I’ve visited every US state, run 365 miles, built an AI for my home, read 25 books, and learned Mandarin.

I started doing these challenges in 2009. That first year the economy was in a deep recession and Facebook was not yet profitable. We needed to get serious about making sure Facebook had a sustainable business model. It was a serious year, and I wore a tie every day as a reminder.

Today feels a lot like that first year. 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. We won’t prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools. If we’re successful this year then we’ll end 2018 on a much better trajectory.

This may not seem like a personal challenge on its face, but I think I’ll learn more by focusing intensely on these issues than I would by doing something completely separate. These issues touch on questions of history, civics, political philosophy, media, government, and of course technology. I’m looking forward to bringing groups of experts together to discuss and help work through these topics.

For example, one of the most interesting questions in technology right now is about centralization vs decentralization. A lot of us got into technology because we believe it can be a decentralizing force that puts more power in people’s hands. (The first four words of Facebook’s mission have always been “give people the power”.) Back in the 1990s and 2000s, most people believed technology would be a decentralizing force.

But today, many people have lost faith in that promise. With the rise of a small number of big tech companies and governments using technology to watch their citizens many people now believe technology only centralizes power rather than decentralizes it.

There are important counter-trends to this –like encryption and cryptocurrency — that take power from centralized systems and put it back into people’s hands. But they come with the risk of being harder to control. I’m interested to go deeper and study the positive and negative aspects of these technologies, and how best to use them in our services.

This will be a serious year of self-improvement and I’m looking forward to learning from working to fix our issues together.

Zuckerberg retracted the statement in 2017 following a tweet in which President Trump claimed Facebook had a specific agenda against him. In a post published in September, he vowed to “keep working to ensure the integrity of free and fair elections around the world, and to ensure our community is a platform for all ideas and a force for good in a democracy.”

 Until now, Zuckerberg’s “personal challenges” have been just that – personal. They began with the humble ambition of wearing a tie to work every day in 2009 “to signal to everyone at work that this was a serious year for us” during the global recession. In 2016 he set himself the challenge of building an AI to run his home and running 365 miles.

This year’s resolution shows a change of focus, showing the CEO taking Facebook’s influential position seriously. With presidential and general elections taking place in Italy, Ireland, Sweden and many other nations during 2018, that commitment will soon be put to the test.

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