November 15, 2018 / 10:27 PM / a month ago

Breakingviews - Mark Zuckerberg pushes wrong kind of independence

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is pushing the wrong kind of independence. The social network’s chief executive on Thursday revealed he plans to set up an external committee to help police fake news and hateful content. The move follows yet more revelations about how poorly he and others dealt with Russian meddling in U.S. elections. Outsourcing decisions won’t fix Facebook’s culture, though. Removing Zuckerberg as chair would be a step in the right direction.

The New York Times on Wednesday published a devastating report detailing a series of bad calls made by Zuckerberg and his second-in-command, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. The team ignored warning signs that Kremlin-backed operatives were using the network to sway voters during the 2016 presidential election and downplayed the damage of hateful content spreading to its some 2 billion users. Facebook even tried to deflect criticism by deploying a research outfit to spread negative articles about their rivals in conservative media.

Zuckerberg is still relying heavily on his apology playbook. He explained, frequently, during a Thursday call with reporters that Facebook has “made a lot of progress” but “still has a lot of work to do.”

One of those initiatives involves an independent committee to make decisions about free expression. Details, including who might be on the board, are sparse. But chances are slim that the $400 billion outfit can easily pass the buck of monitoring content without consequences.

Over the past 18 months or so a pattern has emerged at Facebook of poor decision-making and lapsed judgement. For instance, as insiders realized the scope of Moscow’s campaign, Zuckerberg was largely absent: In 2017 he was on what he called a “listening tour” across America, milking cows and eating pie.

More fundamental change is required at the heart of the company. That’s hard with Zuckerberg being chairman, CEO and, thanks to supervoting stock, in control of shareholder votes. But replacing him as head of the board with a strong outsider would be a good way both to ease the burden of an over-taxed executive suite and bring in a spark of independent leadership the company so desperately needs.

Breakingviews

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