Mark Zuckerberg's tone-deaf declaration of victory in 2018 should make everybody worry about what's going to happen with Facebook next year
Francois Mori/AP Images
- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published his annual year-end letter Friday.
- In it, he boasts of the company's many accomplishments this year, particularly in addressing the "issues" it faced.
- Zuckerberg spends little time discussing the myriad specific scandals the company experienced in 2018, and doesn't apologize for them.
- Given the no-good, horrible, rotten year the company inflicted on its users, investors, and the rest of the world, the letter comes across as more than a bit tone deaf.
In summing up 2018, Mark Zuckerberg seems to have taken inspiration from a popular 1940s song.
He's all about accentuating the positive, and eliminating the negative.
If you asked pretty much anyone else on the planet about the kind of year Zuckerberg's company - Facebook - has had, they'd probably use words or phrases such as "horrible," "disastrous," or "scandal-plagued." They might mention the company's numerous privacy and security scandals; the role it played in promoting violence and genocide in countries as diverse as Myanmar, Nigeria, and Germany; its spread of misinformation and propaganda, particularly of the Russian and Iranian variety; or its flailing attempts to police what its users say on its site.
They might even bring up the company's ham-fisted public relations efforts, such as its use of an anti-Semitic smear to try to discredit its critics, or its cratering stock price.
In reflecting back on such a year, even a dimly aware executive might acknowledge at least some of the company's multiple fiascos, apologize to the organization's numerous stakeholders for them, and promise to do better.
But not Zuckerberg.
In his annual year-end letter, which he published on his Facebook page on Friday, Zuckerberg latched onto the affirmative, as the song goes, boasting of all that the company had accomplished this year and all the great things it does for its users.
"I'm proud of the progress we've made," he says in the letter.
Zuckerberg thinks Facebook accomplished a lot
The letter was anything but a humble apology. Instead, it reads more like the kind of self-evaluation someone writes when they're gunning for a promotion or a raise.
Zuckerberg boasts that 2 billion people now use Facebook's services. That they're using to connect with their friends and family members. That people are using Facebook to raise money for important causes and to find jobs. And that small businesses are using Facebook to find and hire workers.
"Building community and bringing people together leads to a lot of good, and I'm committed to continuing our progress in these areas," he writes.
But Zuckerberg spends most of the letter touting all the significant and wide-ranging advances he feels Facebook has made this year in "addressing some of the most important issues facing our community." That was his personal goal this year, he reminds readers, and he thinks he and the company did a great job of meeting it.
He didn't dwell on any of the many scandals
But he doesn't dwell on how those "issues" manifested themselves this year, much less apologize for the numerous scandals they ignited this year. Besides a passing reference to the leak of data on millions of Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica, the Trump-linked data firm, he doesn't specifically mention any of the company's 2018 fiascos.
Instead, he focuses on explaining just how much work he and Facebook have done to address those "issues." The company's moved a large portion of its staff over to work on "preventing harm." It's got a roadmap for revamping its system to address those "issues," and it's "well into executing" those plans. And as a result of that effort, it now has "some of the most advanced systems in the world for identifying and resolving these issues."
"We've made a lot of improvements and changes this year," he writes.
Don't worry, Facebook is going to keep making "progress"
He wants us to know that Facebook has been willing to make sacrifices to address these "issues." It's spending billions of dollars on security, he notes. The company's also sacrificed revenue for the good of its users, he writes, touting yet again a change Facebook made last year to reduce the number viral videos users see in their news feeds that reduced the time they spent on the service by a collective 50 million hours.
But even more than that, he wants us to know just how beneficial it's been for him to work through these "issues."
"I've learned a lot," he says.
And don't worry, Facebook's not going to rest on its laurels, Zuckerberg assures us. Instead it's going to keep working, he says.
"I'm committed to continuing to make progress on these important issues as we enter the new year," he says.
Thank goodness! I mean, just think about how great 2019 will be for Facebook and the rest of us if the company accomplishes as much as it did this year.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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