Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he’s moving away from his annual self-reflection challenges to take a longer-term focus on what he sees as important over the next decade.
“Rather than having year-to-year challenges, I’ve tried to think about what I hope the world and my life will look in 2030 so I can make sure I’m focusing on those things,” he wrote in a lengthy Facebook post. “By then, if things go well, my daughter Max will be in high school, we’ll have the technology to feel truly present with another person no matter where they are, and scientific research will have helped cure and prevent enough diseases to extend our average life expectancy by another 2.5 years.”
It’s somewhat unsurprising Zuckerberg isn’t spending too much time reflecting on 2019; it was a brutal year for the social media platform. In July, the Federal Trade Commission levied a record $5 billion fine against Facebook for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other privacy breaches (although as The Verge’s Nilay Patel pointed out, that figure had little consequence for a company that recorded a $22 billion profit the year prior). There were also high-profile stories of the horrific working conditions among Facebook content moderators.
But looking forward to what he calls “a new private social platform,” Zuckerberg acknowledges that “the internet gave us the superpower of being able to connect with anyone, anywhere...” which brings significant responsibilities with it.
“...being part of such a large community creates its own challenges and makes us crave intimacy. When I grew up in a small town, it was easy to have a niche and sense of purpose. But with billions of people, it’s harder to find your unique role. For the next decade, some of the most important social infrastructure will help us reconstruct all kinds of smaller communities to give us that sense of intimacy again.
This is one of the areas of innovation I’m most excited about. Our digital social environments will feel very different over the next 5+ years, re-emphasizing private interactions and helping us build the smaller communities we all need in our lives.”
Perhaps most significantly, Zuckerberg’s plan for the next decade includes what he calls “new forms of governance.”
Platforms like Facebook have to make tradeoffs on social values we all hold dear -- like between free expression and safety, or between privacy and law enforcement, or between creating open systems and locking down data and access. It’s rare that there’s ever a clear “right” answer, and in many cases it’s as important that the decisions are made in a way that feels legitimate to the community. From this perspective, I don’t think private companies should be making so many important decisions that touch on fundamental democratic values.
He writes that there are “a number of areas where I believe governments establishing clearer rules would be helpful, including around elections, harmful content, privacy, and data portability. I’ve called for new regulation in these areas and over the next decade I hope we get clearer rules for the internet.” He adds that Facebook will be implementing an oversight board to allow users to “appeal content decisions you disagree with to an independent board,” which could be a model for other online communities.
In previous years, Zuckerberg’s personal challenges have not exactly succeeded. His 2019 challenge to “host a series of public discussions about the future of technology in society” seemed promising, but ultimately didn’t deliver on its goals. “Every few weeks I’ll talk with leaders, experts, and people in our community from different fields and I’ll try different formats to keep it interesting,” Zuckerberg wrote in January 2019.
He ended up holding only six discussions in 11 months, and as The Verge’s Casey Newton noted — while recommending Zuckerberg retire the yearly challenge concept altogether — he used the same format of prerecorded conversations in an office for all but one of the talks, mostly with other white men in the tech field.
And in 2018, Zuckerberg pledged to, basically, do his job as Facebook’s CEO. “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,” he wrote. “My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues.”
The 2017 plan? Visit and meet people in all the US states, with a focus on the 30 states in which he hadn’t spent “significant time” (which sparked speculation he was going to run for president in 2020). “After a tumultuous last year, my hope for this challenge is to get out and talk to more people about how they’re living, working and thinking about the future,” he wrote.
The plan for the next decade is a lofty one. Zuckerberg wants to look at “generational change” because, he writes, “by the end of this decade, I expect more institutions will be run by millennials and more policies will be set to address these problems with longer term outlooks.”