Is it time for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to retire his annual personal challenge?
In years when Facebook was not under hyper-intense scrutiny, Zuckerberg challenged himself to learn Mandarin, run a mile per day and only eat meat from animals he had killed. But now the beleaguered tech executive, leading a company that’s been pilloried by critics on all sides and seen its stock price drop, is trying to set a different tone after a scandal-plagued 2018.
The 34-year-old will be embarking on a listening tour of sorts.
Zuckerberg announced Tuesday that he’ll host a series of “public discussions” every few weeks with leaders, experts and community members about the role of technology in society, including the opportunities, anxieties, hopes and challenges. All of these events will be publicized on his Facebook feed, Instagram page or by other means.
“This will be intellectually interesting, but there’s a personal challenge for me here too,” Zuckerberg explained in his Facebook post. “I’m an engineer and I used to just build out my ideas and hope they’d mostly speak for themselves. But given the importance of what we do, that doesn’t cut it anymore.”
The billionaire and board chairman notes that he will “put himself out there more” than he’s been comfortable with in the past.
In early 2017, Zuckerberg pledged to tour all 50 states, a move that was questioned by some and panned by others, as it came amid growing questions about Russia’s use of Facebook to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.
Some tech industry watchers and critics have said that Zuckerberg’s leadership style, along with his control of the tech giant’s board, is actually the main problem.
“The problem is Zuckerberg and his inability to understand the greater societal implications that result from poorly established corporate values,” Julie Goodridge, CEO of NorthStar Asset Management, which owns 23,500 Facebook shares, told Fox News last month.
“Zuckerberg obviously has a lot of talent, governing the company, but sticking clearly to the mission and knowing what to do when things go wrong, are not skills that he has.”
It remains to be seen whether or not these public discussions can move the needle on the deep, complex questions the world is grappling with about the role of technology in society.