Yesterday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that he would be hosting a series of public debates focusing on the future of technology in 2019. The plan is his personal challenge for 2019.
In previous years, Zuckerberg’s New Year’s resolutions have become infamous. One year, he pledged to learn Mandarin Chinese. Another year, his promise was to try and read two books a month.
In a statement posted on his personal Facebook account yesterday, he announced that in 2019, he planned to hold regular meetings and forums with people from both inside and outside the tech industry to consider how the sector will move forward.
“Every few weeks I’ll talk with leaders, experts, and people in our community from different fields and I’ll try different formats to keep it interesting,” he declared in his statement. “These will all be public, either on my Facebook or Instagram pages or on other media.”
Zuckerberg went on to elaborate on the type of questions he hoped to address in these public debates. They included topics such as, “Do we want technology to keep giving more people a voice, or will traditional gatekeepers control what ideas can be expressed?” and, “Should we decentralize authority through encryption or other means to put more power in people’s hands?”
“In a world where many physical communities are weakening, what role can the internet play in strengthening our social fabric? How do we build an internet that helps people come together to address the world’s biggest problems that require global-scale collaboration? and How do we build technology that creates more jobs rather than just building AI to automate things people do?,” he offered as another topic up for discussion.
While Zuckerberg’s post suggests that these debates were part of a personal challenge, cynics might suggest that Facebook could use some of the good publicity that such debates would generate. In 2018, Facebook lurched from one crisis to another and Zuckerberg came under sustained fire for his failure to tackle issues surrounding user privacy and data protection.
A quick glance at some of the comments generated by his Facebook post gives an idea of the scale of public antipathy towards him and his company.
“We just need you to stop selling our data with your friends…” said one user, while another added, “Just keep my [data] secure and don’t sell it to a 3rd party. Do this and we are cool.”
Others welcomed the idea of a public discussion on such issues and felt that Zuckerberg’s public profile meant that he was the best person to lead it. It remains to be seen who else will take part in such discussions.