Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his mission in 2018 is to fix Facebook's large list of issues, including foreign interference on the platform, ongoing instances of harassment and potential threats to the mental health of its users.
"My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues," Zuckerberg wrote in a post on his Facebook page Thursday. "We won't prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools. If we're successful this year then we'll end 2018 on a much better trajectory."
Facebook was under much scrutiny in 2017 for a litany of issues, including admitting Russians bought ads with the intent to sway the 2016 U.S. elections. Its ad-targeting capabilities were also allowing companies to find potential customers using racially discriminatory and derogatory terms.
Facebook is facing four major challenges as it matures as a company, said Aaron Shapiro, CEO of advertising agency Huge. The company needs to find its role in society, address mental health issues, assuage users' privacy concerns and remain relevant while growing revenue. But while Facebook has done a good job at acquiring companies like Instagram, it's never really addressed the other issues until now, Shapiro said.
The most pressing issue Facebook has to address is fixing its "fake news" problem, said Ronn Torossian, founder and CEO of public relations firm 5WPR. His firm does crisis management for major technology companies.
"We're living in an era where the president of the United States — arguably the most powerful person in the world — speaks about fake news as an issue every day," Torossian said. "If you have a report coming out that says Facebook was a big purveyor of this fake news, you need to fix this thing."
Zuckerberg — who has taken on a personal challenge every year since 2009 — said in his post that one of the most interesting issues facing the technology industry is the concept of "centralization vs. decentralization." Technology was expected to give people more control over their lives, he wrote. But as a handful of technology companies become the dominant players and governments used technology to monitor citizens, people increasingly believe technology is becoming a controlling, centralized power.
"There are important counter-trends to this — like encryption and cryptocurrency — that take power from centralized systems and put it back into people's hands," Zuckerberg wrote. "But they come with the risk of being harder to control. I'm interested to go deeper and study the positive and negative aspects of these technologies, and how best to use them in our services."
The fact that Facebook is used by more than a billion people on a daily basis makes it both an ideal communication tool and an easy way to spread misinformation, said eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson. People see major tech companies as having vast control over their lives, and Facebook will have to learn how to balance its influence with public perception.
"Recognizing its power, and understanding how that power can be used for both good and potentially bad purposes and doing something about that is probably Facebook's biggest challenge," Williamson said.
The fact that Zuckerberg is acknowledging the problems is admirable and positive, 5WPR's Torossian said. And saying he'll do so on his Facebook page is an intelligent move.
"It's PR 101. ... He doesn't have to do an interview. He doesn't have to shout it from the rooftops. All he has to do is put it out on Facebook, and he controls the message," Torossian said.
"Every year I take on a personal challenge to learn something new. I've visited every US state, run 365 miles, built an AI for my home, read 25 books, and learned Mandarin.
I started doing these challenges in 2009. That first year the economy was in a deep recession and Facebook was not yet profitable. We needed to get serious about making sure Facebook had a sustainable business model. It was a serious year, and I wore a tie every day as a reminder.
Today feels a lot like that first year. 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.
My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues. We won't prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools. If we're successful this year then we'll end 2018 on a much better trajectory.
This may not seem like a personal challenge on its face, but I think I'll learn more by focusing intensely on these issues than I would by doing something completely separate. These issues touch on questions of history, civics, political philosophy, media, government, and of course technology. I'm looking forward to bringing groups of experts together to discuss and help work through these topics.
For example, one of the most interesting questions in technology right now is about centralization vs decentralization. A lot of us got into technology because we believe it can be a decentralizing force that puts more power in people's hands. (The first four words of Facebook's mission have always been "give people the power".) Back in the 1990s and 2000s, most people believed technology would be a decentralizing force.
But today, many people have lost faith in that promise. 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.
There are important counter-trends to this --like encryption and cryptocurrency -- that take power from centralized systems and put it back into people's hands. But they come with the risk of being harder to control. I'm interested to go deeper and study the positive and negative aspects of these technologies, and how best to use them in our services.
This will be a serious year of self-improvement and I'm looking forward to learning from working to fix our issues together."