Mark Zuckerberg’s story doesn’t quite line up.
For months, the Facebook chief executive has described the 2016 election as a turning point both for him and for the company over which he holds enormous power.
The cavalcade of scandals that followed that November—disputes over user data, fake news, and Russia’s manipulation of the platform—has led to a “very basic shift in how we view our responsibility,” he said in an interview with The Atlantic on Friday. Now, Zuckerberg is transforming the company, opening it up to public scrutiny in unprecedented ways. “A big theme” going forward, he said, will be getting “independent expertise and assessment of the work that we’re doing.”
Yet Zuckerberg—who is not only Facebook’s CEO, but also the chairman of its board and its majority voting shareholder—struggled to describe when his personal thinking about the company and its philosophy shifted. He could not articulate what changed his mind or drove him to adopt the new approach.
“Well, I certainly feel very bad, and I’m sorry that we did not do a better job of finding the Russian interference during the 2016 election,” Zuckerberg told me. “I mean, that was a huge miss.”
Almost unique among American companies, Facebook is the outgrowth of one man’s sensibility. As that firm now changes its approach to the public, that man hasn’t articulated why. In the days after I spoke to the famously private Zuckerberg, I have wondered whether it matters. Though he runs a company that constantly exhorts people to share how they feel, Zuckerberg himself seems uncomfortable with reflection. He has not ever, in my memory, appeared vulnerable in public. He has ignored the CEO playbook for a company that faces a crisis of public trust: He does not grovel, he does not evince embarrassment at the size of the lapse. He does not tell users: I feel your pain.