Mark Zucker­berg should step down as Face­book chair­man

Tri-City Herald (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY MAR­GARET SUL­LI­VAN

Face­book founder Mark Zucker­berg once set out a bit of dig­i­tal-world wis­dom that be­came his com­pany’s in­for­mal motto: “Move fast and break things.”

Af­ter the past week’s de­vel­op­ments, the 34year-old should de­clare mis­sion ac­com­plished – and find some­thing else to do for the next few decades.

Be­cause he’s shown that he’s in­ca­pable of lead­ing the bro­ken be­he­moth that is Face­book.

Lead­ers – ca­pa­ble lead­ers – don’t do what Zucker­berg has done in the face of dis­as­ter that they them­selves have presided over.

They don’t hide and deny.

They don’t blame-shift. And they don’t in­sist on speak­ing in the worst kind of fuzzy cor­po­rate cliches.

Two stun­ning pieces of jour­nal­ism show the scope of the prob­lem, and how out of his depth Face­book’s chair­man and CEO is.

The first, a ma­jor in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the New York Times, re­vealed that, un­der fire for al­low­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion to spread on its plat­form, Face­book hired an op­po­si­tion-re­search com­pany to plant false sto­ries in the con­ser­va­tive bl­o­go­sphere. Some, for ex­am­ple, sug­gested that Ge­orge Soros, the lib­eral phi­lan­thropist, was bankrolling anti-Face­book pro­tes­tors. To put it more bluntly, Face­book en­abled a smear cam­paign against its crit­ics.

The sec­ond, by the fea­ture writer Eli Saslow in the Wash­ing­ton Post, fo­cused on a par­tic­u­lar blog­ger who makes a liv­ing in­vent­ing vi­ral lies that spread – and are be­lieved – on a Face­book page called “Amer­ica’s Last Line of De­fense.”

To­gether, these sto­ries tell us once again what we al­ready knew: That Face­book is a rud­der­less ship sail­ing to­ward the apoca­lypse – and we’re all along for the ride.

Bad and telling as they are, the lat­est de­vel­op­ments are only more of the same.

This is the same com­pany – with the same lead­er­ship – that de­nied the now-es­tab­lished truth that mis­in­for­ma­tion deeply in­fected the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. (”A pretty crazy idea,” was Zucker­berg’s feint at the time.)

Some Face­book in­vestors are call­ing – again, and more ve­he­mently – for a change at the top. If Zucker­berg is to stay at the helm, they at least want him to give up his dual role as CEO and chair­man. Step down as chair­man and ap­point an in­de­pen­dent direc­tor to over­see the board.

Zucker­berg con­trols 60 per­cent of the com­pany and can do pretty much what­ever he wants. And he doesn’t like that idea.

But it’s the right one. At the very least, it’s a move in a sen­si­ble di­rec­tion. If there was ever a com­pany that needed vig­or­ous checks and bal­ances, it’s this one.

Face­book is a $40 bil­lion global gi­ant with al­most unimag­in­able power. It now has 2 bil­lion users world­wide.

And its lead­er­ship – per­haps un­der­stand­ably has shown it­self sim­ply not up to the task of deal­ing with the ex­plo­sion of growth since its found­ing in 2004 in Zucker­berg’s Har­vard dorm room.

Over the past few days Zucker­berg seems to be reach­ing new lows, threat­en­ing to fire em­ploy­ees who speak to the news me­dia. Con­sid­er­ing the smarmy lip ser­vice that Face­book pays to “trans­parency,” that’s es­pe­cially ap­palling.

Although Zucker­berg of­ten says the right words (“I started this place, I run it. I’m re­spon­si­ble for what hap­pened here”), his be­hind-the-scenes be­hav­ior tells an­other story: The buck never seems to stop with Zucker­berg, de­spite his im­mense and closely held power.

There is no good so­lu­tion here. Gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion of so­cial-me­dia plat­forms has dire im­pli­ca­tions for free speech. And the no­tion that Face­book is go­ing to some­how fix it­self has been proven wrong time and time again.

But the sta­tus quo is un­ac­cept­able – and dan­ger­ous.

If Zucker­berg re­ally wants to be “re­spon­si­ble for what hap­pened here,” he’ll step aside as chair­man and en­cour­age some strin­gent in­ter­nal over­sight. And, as part of that, true trans­parency to the pub­lic and the press.

Face­book, whether it wants to ad­mit it or not, is in se­ri­ous cri­sis.

And its power is such that the cri­sis ex­tends to every­one it touches – and be­yond.


Face­book’s Mark Zucker­berg at a House hear­ing April 11. Face­book is a rud­der­less ship sail­ing to­ward the apoca­lypse.

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