Company / division: Zuckerberg
Even though the shareholder lawsuit over plans to create a new class of shares at Facebook has been settled, some of the materials in the suit have just been unsealed and revealed some interesting tidbits. Business Insider has latched onto this particular one, which is that Mark Zuckerberg wanted to have Facebook employees work on projects for his Chan Zuckerberg Initiative foundation, but got pushback from other board members, notably Marc Andreessen. On the one hand, this feels like just the kind of thing some people worried about when Zuckerberg created the foundation while still running Facebook, risking a blurring of lines between the two. It feels clearly inappropriate for him to try to swing corporate resources behind his personal projects and it’s good that he was shot down. But I’m also minded of the many things that Google invested in during its pre-Alphabet days which were effectively personal passion projects for the two founders. Some of those things had at least tenuous connections to Google’s core business, but others felt much more disconnected, and yet the fact that there was no real shareholder oversight with most of them meant that they happened anyway (and the founders could at least argue they were potentially commercial projects, even if some of them were years from generating revenue). The fact that Zuckerberg created a separate foundation to pursue his projects makes the separation that should exist much clearer and thereby highlights these potential conflicts of interest much more clearly.
via Business Insider
Mark Zuckerberg has dropped plans to have Facebook create a new share class designed to allow him to retain voting control of the company even as he sells many of his shares to fund his philanthropic effort. The move had angered shareholders, who filed suit to prevent the change, and Zuckerberg appears to have caved rather than have to go to court to defend his actions (and potentially the broader issue of the special class of shares he already holds). His argument is that Facebook is doing so well that he can retain control while selling enough shares to fund his philanthropic efforts. The case would have been really awkward for Zuckerberg at a time when he’s been making significant changes and concessions to try to improve public perceptions of Facebook and him personally, so this was probably a smart move, and one which won’t have too many negative consequences for him (and none for Facebook as a company).
Zuckerberg manifesto removes reference to Facebook monitoring ‘private channels’ – Business Insider (Feb 17, 2017)
Kudos to Mashable, which first noticed that one paragraph in a 6,000-word manifesto had been changed from the original to the final version (I covered the manifesto itself yesterday). And kudos, too, to Business Insider for following up with Facebook to find out why it was removed. The official explanation is that the paragraph talked too specifically about a capability Facebook hasn’t finalized yet, but it’s at least as likely that Facebook worried it would cause major privacy concerns. The paragraph in question talked about using AI to detect terrorists in private channels, which rather flies in the face of Facebook’s commitment to encryption and protecting privacy. As with much else in the letter, I think it was likely intended to be mostly aspirational rather than specific, but the original paragraph was rather tone deaf about how such an idea would be received even in such high-level terms.
via Business Insider
Mark Zuckerberg Pens a Personal and Facebook Manifesto (Feb 16, 2017)
Mark Zuckerberg has posted a combination personal and Facebook manifesto to the site, and has also been speaking to a variety of reporters about it over the last day or so. The manifesto is long and covers a ton of ground, some of it about the state of the world but much of it at least indirectly and often quite directly about Facebook and its role in such a world. In some ways, this builds on comments Zuckerberg made at the F8 developer conference last year, and it mostly stays at a similar high level, talking about grand ideas and issues at the 30,000 foot level rather than naming particular politicians or being more specific. To the extent that Zuckerberg is talking about how to use Facebook as a force for good in the world, this is admirable at least to a point. He clearly now both recognizes and is willing to admit to a greater extent than previously the role Facebook has played in some of the negative trends (and I believe this piece contains his first proactive use of the phrase “fake news”), and wants to help fix them, though much of his commentary on what’s going wrong spreads the blame more broadly. I’m also a little concerned that, although many of the problems Facebook creates stem from the service’s massive and increasing power over our lives, the solutions he proposes mostly seem to be about increasing Facebook’s power rather than finding ways to limit it. To some extent, that’s natural given who he is, but it suggests an ongoing unwillingness to recognize the increasing mediation of our world by big forces like Facebook and Google and the negative impact that can have. Still, it’s good to see more open communication on issues like this from a major tech leader – I’d love to see more of this kind of thing (as I wrote last summer in this piece).
In the last day or so, both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg have chimed in on different Trump administration policies in Facebook posts. Sandberg had been criticized for being so silent on some of the administration’s policies regarding women, given that she’s been such an advocate for women, and has now chimed in on abortion policy in overseas aid. Zuckerberg voiced opinions about immigration policy, specifically the restrictions on immigration which are apparently about to go into effect. I won’t comment on the specific policies in detail here, other than to say that like many people I’m disheartened by the speed with which immigration policy is changing in ways that will have devastating effects on many immigrants, whether refugees or people here on a green card. The point from the perspective of this site is that these are some of the first public statements from executives at major tech companies to critique specific policies of the Trump administration, while most tech companies seem to be treading very carefully at the moment, presumably for fear of becoming targets of angry tweets or threats. I wonder if we’ll see that change in subtle ways in the coming weeks and months, with Facebook potentially leading the way. Importantly, none of the comments from Zuckerberg or Sandberg are vitriolic, but instead are very measured (Zuckerberg’s in particular are quite balanced on several different issues within the broad umbrella of immigration policy). There’s clearly room for constructive engagement here.
Although Zuckerberg sets himself a personal goal every year, this one feels like a more corporate one than those he’s set in the past, and it’s hard not to read it as an attempt to understand and assuage concerns about Facebook’s increasing power and its role in our lives. I’m curious to see how Zuck goes about connecting with ordinary people and what he hears from them (and who else will be present to hear that feedback). It’s hard to tell at the outset whether this will be more of a stunt or PR exercise or a true listening tour, but Facebook and Zuckerberg definitely need to do more of the latter.
Ever since the US presidential election, Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have been grappling with what kind of company Facebook is, and its role in the modern world. Zuckerberg’s initial reaction to claims Facebook affected the election was dismissive, but his views seem to be evolving, which is a good thing. Facebook is enormously influential, and needs to recognize that.
Critics of all stripes have found fault with Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s philanthropic efforts, but there’s no doubting the commitment to effecting real change here. On balance, I’m inclined to think this is a good thing, though it’s worth continuing to evaluate the methods and structure of the Initiative.
Mark Zuckerberg says it’s ‘extremely unlikely’ fake news on Facebook changed the election outcome – Recode (Nov 13, 2016)
Mark Zuckerberg has continued to resist calls for Facebook to see itself as a media company, and to accept the editorial responsibilities that come with this role. This puts him in conflict with not only much of the rest of the industry and its commentariat but many users too, and it’s a tension that can only be resolved as Zuckerberg and Facebook recognize the product’s evolution and take steps to improve the user experience while reassuring users Facebook won’t abuse its power. That’s a really tough line to walk.
Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook in general have long strenuously resisted the media company label, not least because media companies are valued much lower than tech companies. And yet Facebook has become arguably the most influential media company in the world over the past few years, a fact that’s only become clearer as 2016 has gone on. This identity crisis also makes it harder for Facebook to make smart decisions about how to manage problems like fake news on the site – the sooner it reaches some conclusions, the better.