Will fixing Facebook ‘fix’ things for everyone or just Facebook?

Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘personal challenge’ for 2018 is to sweat the big stuff

Personal challenge: Mark Zuckerberg says his resolution is to ‘fix’ Facebook. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters.

Personal challenge: Mark Zuckerberg says his resolution is to ‘fix’ Facebook. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters.

 

Like many much less successful people, Mark Zuckerberg has made a new year’s resolution. Sadly, it’s not as much fun as his 2011 resolution to eat meat only “from animals I’ve killed myself”, which conjures up the delightful image of the Facebook chief executive roaming the forests of Silicon Valley with a hunting rifle.

This year’s down-to-business “personal challenge” is to focus on fixing “important issues” within Facebook. That’s right: Zuckerberg’s resolution is do the job that Facebook’s users, investors and society at large could be forgiven for believing is implied by the title “chief executive”.

It seems the tech and media giant’s founder is not immune to January fear: “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,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post.

This follows a year in which the company was criticised for the live streaming of several suicides and murders on Facebook Live and found itself obliged to give testimony about how “fake news” spread through its platform might have facilitated Russian interference in the US presidential election.

The final ambition, “making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent”, sounds innocuous – like the kind of line found in a corporate presentation to advertisers – but that’s deceptive. Forget about the soul-searching research posts about helping users have “meaningful” interactions, what Zuckerberg wants is for people to spend more time on Facebook.

The company is poised to pay for content to achieve that aim. Meanwhile, it is not inconceivable that Facebook may choose to sidestep the flak for distributing fake news by simply choosing to downgrade news – all news – in its algorithm or remove news from the news feed entirely. Happy new year, publishers.

“If we’re successful this year then we’ll end 2018 on a much better trajectory,” wrote Zuckerberg. The question now is whether a trajectory that’s better for Facebook is better for the rest of us too.