Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook from his Harvard dorm room (of course, with a little bit of help). Now, 14 years and several scandals later, the 33-year-old billionaire is unabashedly saying that he’s still the best person to run Facebook.
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On a rare call with journalists Wednesday, Financial Times reporter Hannah Kuchler asked, “Has the board discussed if you should step down from chairman?”
Zuckerberg — a man who once gave out business cards that said, “I’m CEO, bitch” — replied with a cocky tone quite unlike his often robotic-cheery responses: “Not that I’m aware of.”
The question comes in the wake of Facebook’s latest scandal involving Trump-linked firm Cambridge Analytica obtaining Facebook users’ profile data without their direct consent. Previous reports estimated the number of affected users to be 50 million, but today, Facebook revealed that number is closer to 87 million, according to a blog post published shortly before the call.
Zuckerberg has admitted, repeatedly, that his company’s previous openness to developers was a mistake, and his team has since instituted several big changes to its platform to restrict developers’ access to data and try to prevent another Cambridge Analytica. Facebook also has been working aggressively to curb fake news and prevent foreign interference in elections.
But when it comes to who should oversee the efforts, Mark Zuckerberg’s answer is himself. Because, according to Zuckerberg, building Facebook is hard, and nobody is perfect. Here’s how he responded to NBC News reporter Alyssa Newcomb’s question, “Do you think you’re the best person to run Facebook?”:
“When you’re building something like Facebook that is unprecedented in the world, you’re going to mess up.
I don’t think anyone is going to be perfect. I think life is about learning from mistakes and what you need to do to move forward.
The reality of a lot of this when you’re building something like Facebook that’s unprecedented you’re going to mess something up. People should hold us accountable for learning from our mistakes.”
Indeed, Zuckerberg is not perfect. When asked about the effect of fake news on the 2016 presidential election shortly after the results were in, he said it was a “crazy idea” to think that Facebook had affected the outcome. On Wednesday, a BBC reporter asked Zuckerberg if he was taking this problem seriously enough. The CEO confessed his previous statement as being a huge mistake.
“I made a mistake by dismissing fake news as crazy,” Zuckerberg said. “What I think is clear is it was too flippant, and I should have never referred to it as crazy.”
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Zuckerberg is focused more than ever on user privacy. He personally uses two-factor authentication and avoids making his password publicly available information. But he’s also in charge of making sure Facebook doesn’t nefariously socially engineer your mind to think a certain way and not allow bad actors access to your information without your consent. Overall, Zuckerberg wants Facebook to do more to be better.
“We didn’t do enough. We didn’t focus enough on preventing abuse…that goes for fake news, foreign interference in election, hate speech, in addition to developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view and that was a huge mistake,” Zuckerberg said.
According to his previous statements and from what he expressed in Wednesday’s call, Zuckerberg and his team at Facebook seem to have not appreciated the scale and influence of the social network. Rather, the team focused on growth and connecting people, regardless of whether these tools allowed nefarious activity.
“It’s not enough to just connect people. You have to make sure those connections are positive and bringing people together.”
“It’s not enough to just connect people. You have to make sure those connections are positive and bringing people together,” Zuckerberg said. “It’s not enough to give people tools to sign in. We have to make sure all those developers protect information.”
The Cambridge Analytica scandal in part led to the #DeleteFacebook movement, which Zuckerberg also addressed on the call. He said he could not share an exact number of accounts that were deleted, but described the movement as important. “Look, it’s not good. It still speaks to people feeling like this was a massive breach of trust,” he said.
Zuckerberg has agreed to personally testify to Congress on April 11. While he has been asked by several Congressional committees, he only promised he would appear in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. This will be Zuckerberg’s first-ever testimony to Congress, and for that reason alone, the event is a big deal. But it remains to be seen if Facebook will be faced with any regulations. That isn’t the case in Europe, where Facebook and other tech platforms are having to build new data protection tools to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
While a recent Reuters story suggested Facebook will not make the GDPR policies and products available to users globally, Zuckerberg rejected that report.
“I was somewhat surprised by yesterday’s Reuters’ story that ran on this,” Zuckerberg said. “My answer was yes. We intended to make all the same controls and settings everywhere, not just in Europe. Is that going to be exactly the same everywhere? Probably not.”
As Zuckerberg said, nobody is perfect. That also means its users. Twice in the call he tried to make the case that it wasn’t just a Facebook problem but rather it includes a lack of understanding by users that the information they choose to share inform Facebook’s system and that of other apps.
“I think we need to do a better job of explaining the principles that the service offers. Most of the content that people knows about you is because you chose to share on your profile,” Zuckerberg said. “We’re never going to sell your information.”