Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used an annual New Years’ message, a custom he has maintained for several years, to issue a challenge of sorts to others, including lawmakers.
Zuckerberg has typically published a post in early January on a "personal challenge" for the year. They have included everything from learning Mandarin to hunting and cooking his own meat. This time, he used the yearly Facebook post to discuss everything from the next big computing platform to privacy regulation.
Framing it as part of a “longer term focus” this decade, the Facebook chief broke down the issues that he believes will matter between now and 2030. They also closely mirrored past commentary and current initiatives at the social media firm.
“The area we're most focused on is helping small businesses,” he wrote. “If we can make it so anyone can sell products through a storefront on Instagram, message and support their customers through Messenger, or send money home to another country instantly and at low cost through WhatsApp -- that will go a long way towards creating more opportunity around the world.”
Zuckerberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg have characterized Facebook’s efforts to create peer-to-peer and cross-border payments tools -- notably through the Libra project, which was originally meant to launch this year -- as having the potential to boost small businesses. Facebook Pay, a less controversial payments mechanism than Libra, began rolling out in the U.S. in November.
Zuckerberg also heralded what he sees as the next wave of computing: augmented and virtual reality. And he also hinted that what Facebook is building will not only bring AR and VR to market in a broader way, but will “address some of the biggest social issues of our day -- like ballooning housing costs and inequality of opportunity by geography.”
“Imagine if you could live anywhere you chose and access any job anywhere else,” he added. “If we deliver on what we're building, this should be much closer to reality by 2030.”
Facebook purchased Oculus, maker of one of the early VR headsets, for $2 billion in 2014 -- but sales of Oculus haven’t made much of a splash to date, either for Facebook’s revenue or for a general consumer audience.
On Facebook’s third quarter earnings call, Zuckerberg acknowledged that VR development is “taking a little longer than we thought,” and that Facebook will be underwriting Oculus’ development for awhile longer.
“We’re not a company that has traditionally done hardware or built operating systems or these kind of products... I just think that we’re going to be better off when this is really ready to be a completely mainstream thing with hundreds of millions of people using it,” Zuckerberg said. He didn’t describe in Thursday’s Facebook post what specifically the company is building around VR and jobs.
Zuckerberg also reiterated some of Facebook’s more controversial positions on content, deflecting the issue to lawmakers and calling for updated regulations on tech.
Repeating a common Facebook talking point, Zuckerberg wrote that private companies shouldn’t be making decisions “that touch on fundamental democratic values,” such as trade-offs between safety and free expression.
Facebook drew outrage last year for saying that it won’t fact-check or remove political advertising, even when it contains lies. Zuckerberg has called on regulators to develop clearer guidelines around issues such as elections, content, privacy, and data portability, and reiterated that call on Thursday along with a plug for Facebook’s forthcoming Oversight Board -- a Supreme Court-esque panel that will make decisions, instead of Facebook, on content oversight.
He described this or other forms of “community governance” as a “perhaps even better” model that government regulation.
Facebook’s government critics are unlikely to be persuaded.
Facebook is one of several tech giants under antitrust review by multiple U.S. agencies and a coalition of state attorneys general. Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, among others, has called for the company to be broken up.
In October, Zuckerberg warned investors that 2020 will be a “very tough year,” owing in large part to heightened scrutiny of the firm in the run-up to the presidential election in November.