The last time Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was met with crisis, it didn’t go well.
That was in late 2016, shortly after the U.S. presidential election, and people were starting to ask serious questions about whether or not fake news on Facebook helped Donald Trump get elected.
Zuckerberg dismissed the idea outright just three days after the election. “Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook ... influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea,” Zuckerberg said at the time.
We know how that played out, and Zuckerberg came across as defensive, unapologetic and, perhaps worst of all, naive.
But on Wednesday, when Zuckerberg took questions from reporters for 45 minutes on a conference call to address his latest scandal — the Cambridge Analytica privacy fiasco — he didn’t come across as defensive, unapologetic or naive. In fact, he came across as the exact opposite.
“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough,” Zuckerberg said of building Facebook with safeguards in place. “We didn’t focus enough on preventing abuse and thinking through how people could use these tools to do harm as well, and that goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, hate speech, in addition to developers and data privacy.”
“We didn’t take a broad enough view of what our responsibility is, and that was a huge mistake,” Zuckerberg added. “It was my mistake.”
Throughout the 45 minute session, Zuckerberg answered all the tough questions, including one about whether or not he should keep his job as CEO. (Yes, he thinks he should.) Zuckerberg handled every answer despite the fact that there were two other Facebook executives on the call. When the moderator started to wrap up the questioning, Zuckerberg jumped in to say he wanted to take more questions.
He sounded confident, knowledgable and, most importantly, like he actually understood that he is responsible for Facebook and its consequences — whether they are intended or not.
When asked if he had fired anyone for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which an outside data firm collected profile data on as many as 87 million people without their permission, Zuckerberg said he isn’t looking for a scapegoat.
“I have not,” Zuckerberg said. “At the end of the day, this is my responsibility. I started this place, I run it, I’m responsible for what happens here. I still think I’m going to do the best job to run it going forward, but I’m not looking to throw anyone else under the bus for mistakes that we’ve made here.”
No one feels bad for Mark Zuckerberg, nor should they. As a mega-billionaire making more billions thanks to the personal information of most of the world’s internet users, Zuckerberg doesn’t elicit much sympathy.
Yes, he screwed up. Zuckerberg will tell you that himself. But unlike the last time, he knows there’s no one else to blame.
“I think life is about learning from the mistakes and about learning what you need to do to move forward,” he said when asked if he still deserved his job. “When you’re building something like Facebook that is unprecedented in the world, there are going to be things you mess up. And if we’d gotten this right, we would have messed something else up.”
“I don’t think anyone is going to be perfect,” he added, “but I think what people should hold us accountable for is learning from the mistakes and continually doing better.”
Zuckerberg is officially accountable. Now it’s time to do better.