Facebook says its mission is "to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together." That's a pretty big goal, but right now it has even bigger problems.

The company has faced extraordinary scrutiny and criticism lately on a range of fronts from lawmakers, federal regulators, shareholders, privacy advocates, and even one of its co-founders. Most of it centers around Russian interference in our elections, along with "fake news" more generally, amid concerns over exactly what information Facebook is tracking and what the company does with it. 

You could argue that any one of those issues might be the biggest problem facing Facebook right now, but you'd be wrong.

The biggest problem facing Facebook is Mark Zuckerberg. 

The true believer.

Mark Zuckerberg is a true believer. That's certainly a valuable quality in a founder, but unfortunately, it means he genuinely doesn't get it. He genuinely doesn't understand why people are so concerned about privacy, or fake news, or being stalked around the internet.

Because he is a true believer, he can't imagine why anyone might have problems with the company's policies and practices. 

By the way, this isn't uncommon among founders. It's why some incredibly successful founders are only able to take a company so far. They're unable to see beyond the huge blind spot made by their best intentions. 

Shareholders aren't buying it.

Like many founders, Zuckerberg sees Facebook as 'his.' At one point, it certainly was, but today it belongs to thousands, if not millions of shareholders--not to mention billions of users.  

And they are sending a clear message that they believe a change is necessary both in direction and leadership, but the company--and more specifically its 35-year-old founder, isn't listening. 

According to Facebook's most recent SEC filing, almost 68 percent of outside investors voted to remove Zuckerberg as Chairman. That's an overwhelming statement that had little effect since Zuckerberg has majority control of voting shares in the company through its dual-class share system (which is its own problem).

Companies deal with shareholder concerns all the time, but this isn't some rouge outside activist with a six or seven percent stake trying to shake things up. By my rough pencil-on-napkin calculations based on Facebook's filing regarding the vote, this was $242 billion worth of shares voting to strip Zuckerberg of his complete control over the company.

The problem of the true believer.

Which brings us back to the problem of the true believer. 

The problem with a true believer isn't that they believe in their company, they're supposed to do that. The problem is that the version they believe in usually doesn't actually exist.

The true believer sees the idealistic version of his or her enterprise, which means they often don't see the "realistic" version. Their version is helpful in the beginning because someone has to see what it "could be." Seven years in, however, Facebook needs someone who sees "what is." because in reality, "what is," isn't good after a series of scandals from  Cambridge Analytica to personal data breaches. 

In the true believer's alternate reality, it's hard to imagine why people wouldn't trust him since he clearly knows what's best for Facebook. After all, his goal is simply "to give people the power to" do some stuff about community and whatever else keeps you engaged long enough to see enough ads to make the company truck-loads of cash.

Except he's not.

What Facebook really is.

Yes, the company is making truck-loads of cash. Facebook's revenue was $55.8 billion in 2018. It made $22 billion in profit.

Almost all of that came from ads, which means its primary obligation is to advertisers. Advertisers care about two things. First, they care about access to a huge audience of people to see their ads, and second, that they can show you relevant ads that you'll click on. 

The first depends on more people using Facebook, more often. The second depends on knowing exactly who those people are.

Data is the driver behind both, which is why Facebook has been willing to take extraordinary steps to identify and track pretty much everything you do. 

Facebook wants to know what you care about because by showing you more of that, you're more likely to stick around. The longer you stick around, the more opportunities the company has to show you targeted ads. 

That's what Facebook is. It's a printing press for cash built on monetizing your personal information, often without you knowing it or explicitly agreeing.

Every time Mark Zuckerberg talks about giving people the power to build community, just remember that he actually holds all of the power when it comes to Facebook. And when people tried to act, he used his power to shut them down because it interfered with the version of Facebook he lives in. 

The true believer version. 

Which is exactly why Mark Zuckerberg is the biggest problem for Facebook.

Published on: Jun 11, 2019
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