Each January, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg rings in the New Year with a personal challenge, like learning Mandarin, running 365 miles, or building an artificially intelligent assistant for his home. His pledge for 2018, however, is far less personal, far more vital, and a goal that he should have prioritized sooner than the turn of this new year.
“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 on his Facebook page on Jan. 4. “My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues. We won’t prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools. If we’re successful this year then we’ll end 2018 on a much better trajectory.”
Indeed, 2017 turned out to be a landmark year for Facebook, but not in a way that the company might have hoped. Despite Zuckerberg’s well-publicized intentions to use Facebook to make the world a better place, his company has found itself embroiled in one controversy after another in recent months and years.
Take last fall, when Facebook revealed it had found a connection between $100,000 in ad spending on its platform and phony accounts likely operated out of Russia. That spending, which occurred between June 2015 and May 2017, was linked to roughly 3,000 ads, and served as evidence of Russia’s desire to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “How did Facebook, which prides itself on being able to process billions of data points and instantly transform them in the personal connections with its user, somehow not make the connection that electoral ads, paid for in rubles, were coming from Russia?” former Minnesota senator Al Franken, who recently resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations, asked when grilling company representatives during an October hearing on Russian election meddling.
The year before, an investigation by Gizmodo suggested that Facebook suppressed conservative news outlets in the website’s Trending sidebar, raising concerns over how the site determines which content gets shown to the one billion people who visit daily. “This is a problem because it demonstrates the ability to manipulate the…