Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sets himself a challenge each year. In the past, he's created an AI assistant for his home and committed to learning Mandarin. This time around, after a torrid year where Facebook faced myriad privacy scandals, he's planning to hold a number of public discussions about how technology plays a role in the future of society.
"I'm an engineer, and I used to just build out my ideas and hope they'd mostly speak for themselves," he wrote in a Facebook post. "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 tradeoffs we face, and where we want to go."
Zuckerberg plans to hold talks with "leaders, experts, and people in our community from different fields" every few weeks. He'll make the discussions available on his Facebook and Instagram feeds or elsewhere.
On the surface, that's all well and good, but perhaps Zuckerberg might be best served to directly focus on restoring trust with Facebook's two billion users and fixing the vast array of problems with which his platform is struggling, including privacy screwups and a tanking stock. Trying to fix the future is moot if Facebook, in its current state, continues to poison every well.
Zuckerberg wrote that last year he "focused almost all my time on addressing important issues around elections, speech, privacy, and well-being. Facebook is a different company now than it was a couple of years ago because of a much greater focus on these questions. These issues are complex and we will continue focusing on them for years to come."
It seems he feels those issues are under control to the point that he's able to divert some of his attention to his new annual endeavor. Many of Facebook's users and investors perhaps beg to differ. "Fixing Facebook" would probably be enough of a challenge. There are some positives here though, as at least Zuckerberg recognizes Facebook and the tech industry need to be part of broader discussions, and building products in a bubble just doesn't work anymore.