The co-founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg wrote on his page early Thursday saying that Facebook has “a lot of work to do” when it comes to harassment, election interference, and making sure that it’s a meaningful platform to be on. So he’s making it his “personal challenge” for 2018 to “focus on fixing these important issues.”
Zuckerberg has always set for himself a personal challenge every year since 2009, but they’re usually more along the lines of “meet new people” or “read more books.” This year’s challenge comes from a very different place and carries more of the magnitude that is expected from the top executive of such an influential company.
Facebook has grown more willing to accept its role as a central distributor of information over the past year, although this acceptance has come in phases. Zuckerberg’s announcement today suggests the company is more than ready to address its many shortcomings in that role.
“We won’t prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools,” Zuckerberg writes. “If we’re successful this year then we’ll end 2018 on a much better trajectory.”
This is an important point for Zuckerberg to acknowledge. Despite the fact that Facebook often approaches issues like harassment with good intentions, they frequently go awry when its guidelines are misapplied — banning people who shouldn’t be banned or allowing people to stay who are clearly acting inappropriately. This is clearly a systemic issue.
Although Facebook isn’t immediately announcing any changes to the product itself, Zuckerberg acknowledges the company’s problems with more bluntness than usual. He even points out the growing distrust between major tech companies and the immense power companies like Facebook have gained.
“A lot of us got into technology because we believe it can be a decentralizing force that puts more power in people’s hands … 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,” he writes.
Zuckerberg says encryption and cryptocurrency are two “important counter-trends” that put power back in people’s hands. He writes that he’s interested in studying their impact and “how best to use them in our services.”
Much of this sounds like musing on Zuckerberg’s part. It’s impossible to imagine Facebook giving up its immensely profitable role as the central hub for online communication for some idealistic, decentralized network out of its control, but Zuckerberg’s acknowledgement of the fears and concerns of his users is at least a foundation on which it can hopefully start to address those problems with more energy.