Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg pledged Tuesday to hold public discussions in 2019 “about the future of technology in society,” a reflection of mounting apprehensions — among regulators and web users alike — with the social-networking giant and its peers in Silicon Valley.
In a note posted to his personal Facebook page, Zuckerberg said he plans to convene experts and others every few weeks, with the goal of exploring “the opportunities, the challenges, the hopes, and the anxieties” posed by the tech industry. Some of the early issues he identified include the arrival of artificial intelligence, which could displace workers from their jobs, and the role of Web companies to serve as “gatekeepers” of online speech.
"I'm an engineer, and I used to just build out my ideas and hope they'd mostly speak for themselves,” Zuckerberg said. “But given the importance of what we do, that doesn't cut it anymore. So I'm going to put myself out there more than I've been comfortable with and engage more in some of these debates about the future, the trade-offs we face, and where we want to go."
For Zuckerberg, who has set an annual personal goal for himself since 2009, the moment of introspection comes a year after the social-networking giant faced a barrage of criticism worldwide about its business practices — including on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers forced the Facebook chief to testify for the first time in 2018.
Multiple privacy scandals wracked the tech giant during the year, resulting in government investigations while souring Facebook’s stock price at times in the eyes of shareholders on Wall Street. Some users opted to quit Facebook entirely, fearing that the company knows too much about them.
At the same time, Facebook has continued to grapple with malicious actors who seek to harm its users — including those who deliberately spread falsehoods online or target users on the basis of their race, gender or other identifying traits. Zuckerberg began 2018 by announcing that his goal was “fixing” those very issues, two years after Russian agents took to Facebook and other sites to spread disinformation, disrupt U.S. democracy and try to help elect Donald Trump. Although Facebook made some strides — tightening its policies while hiring new staff members to spot abuse — the company has faced continued criticism from policymakers, including Congress, which has demanded Facebook take more swift action.
“Facebook is a different company now than it was a couple of years ago because of a much greater focus on these questions,” Zuckerberg said in his note Tuesday. “These issues are complex and we will continue focusing on them for years to come.”