Mark Zuckerberg Resolves to 'Fix' Facebook in 2018

By Deepa Seetharaman Features Dow Jones Newswires

For years, Mark Zuckerberg has announced an annual personal challenge, from slaughtering his own meat to learning Mandarin to building his own artificial intelligence. His 2018 task may be the most ambitious yet: Fix Facebook Inc.

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In a Facebook post Thursday that highlights his company's mounting difficulties, Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook has made "too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools." The Facebook chief executive, a self-described optimist about technology, said promising tools like encryption and cryptocurrency could help counter concerns about the growing power of tech giants, but added that they, too, carried risks that needed to be deliberated.

"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," Mr. Zuckerberg wrote. "My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues."

The goal shows how starkly Facebook's situation has changed. In January 2017, even as criticism was growing about Facebook's role in spreading fake news and divisiveness during the U.S. presidential election, he unveiled plans for a series of trips across the country to talk to Americans about their lives and work. The tour sparked speculation that Mr. Zuckerberg might want to run for president.

Now Mr. Zuckerberg is focused on addressing a mountain of risks that threaten to damage the company he co-founded in 2004 as a service for Harvard University students. Today, more than two billion people log into Facebook every month and it is one of the world's most valuable and influential companies -- power that is now drawing enormous scrutiny.

Over the past 18 months, Facebook has been lambasted for allowing objectionable content, including violent live videos, and fabricated news articles to proliferate on its service.

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Last fall, Facebook lurched into crisis mode after disclosing that Russia-backed entities used its platform and advertising tools to spread divisive messages to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. This admission sparked a rare set of hearings on Capitol Hill during which lawmakers grilled officials from Facebook, Twitter Inc. and Alphabet Inc.'s Google.

More recently, several former Facebook executives and employees have expressed remorse for helping build a platform that they said was designed to foster dependence on Facebook. Those comments eventually prompted Facebook to acknowledge that certain types of social-media use could be harmful to users' mental health.

Mr. Zuckerberg said in Thursday's post that the current national mood resembles that of 2009, when he mounted his first personal challenge by wearing a tie every day. At the time, the U.S. economy was in the midst of recession and Facebook, then five years old, wasn't profitable.

"It was a serious year, and I wore a tie every day as a reminder," Mr. Zuckerberg wrote. "Today feels a lot like that first year."

Many people have lost confidence in tech giants' ability to level the playing field, he said.

Facebook in particular has gained a reputation for being ruthless in its desire to squash its rivals.

"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," Mr. Zuckerberg wrote.

Mr. Zuckerberg's latest mission lacks the same kind of concrete goals as prior challenges, which also generally have skewed more toward individual development, such as his 2015 promise to read a new book every two weeks.

It isn't clear what it would take for his 2018 personal challenge to be met and a Facebook spokesman didn't respond to a request for more information.

Mr. Zuckerberg said the current issues facing the company touched on subjects like "history, civics, political philosophy, media, government, and of course technology." He added that he would be "bringing groups of experts together to discuss and help work through these topics," but didn't specify the goal of those conversations or whom he would invite.

"If we're successful this year then we'll end 2018 on a much better trajectory," he wrote.

Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 04, 2018 17:39 ET (22:39 GMT)