clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Getty Images

Filed under:

Zuckerberg: The Recode interview

Everything was on the table — and after Facebook’s wildest year yet, that’s a really big table.

Yesterday, I motored my Ford Fiesta down to Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., to interview CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg.

I had not done a formal interview with Zuckerberg since he appeared at our D: All Things Digital conference in 2010, when the company was in its early days. Now, Zuckerberg was ensconced in a massive building with a garden on the roof, part of an even larger campus that sprawled all over and was still growing.

Also growing? Increased scrutiny and criticism of the social network Zuckerberg had built into a behemoth.

It’s well deserved given the sloppy way the company has handled a range of issues of late, including not monitoring how user data was abused by Cambridge Analytica, not stopping the Russians from manipulating the platform in the 2016 elections and allowing false news from suspect publishers like Infowars to be distributed on the platform.

The controversies have landed Zuckerberg and Facebook in hearings here and in Europe and have tarnished his nerd-god image.

In this 90-minute interview we talked about a range of things, from news to data to privacy to China to his political ambitions. As you will hear, Zuckerberg can cling closely to talking points, but he also did reveal more than he has about this annus horribilis for him and, well, the rest of us.

While many are justifiably angry at him and at Facebook, I decided to not strafe the billionaire entrepreneur. I tried instead to engage him in a conversation about how he has mishandled his growing power and responsibility and what he planned to do about it.

I think the interview gives a picture of an earnest and canny tech leader who is also grappling with the darker side of his creation. At one point, I asked him who was to blame and who should pay the price for the Cambridge Analytica controversy and he rightly named himself, as the person who invented Facebook. “Do you want me to fire myself on this podcast?” Zuckerberg joked. Spoiler alert: He did not.

Unfortunately, we did not get to every topic. We did not touch on the important issues of diversity, tech addiction and other issues that I hope to get to discuss with him in our next interview.

You can listen to our entire conversation right now in the audio player below. If you prefer to listen on your phone, Recode Decode is available wherever you listen to podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts and Overcast.

What follows is a condensed, lightly edited version of the conversation. You can read a full transcript of the interview here.

Kara Swisher: I’m gonna start off with the news of the day. You saw the Putin/Trump press conference, essentially.

I saw the news about it.

Tell me what you think about his idea that there is no evidence that the Russians used social media and did different things during the election.

Well, the evidence that we’ve seen is quite clear, that the Russians did try to interfere with the election.

We’ve tried to cooperate with the government and the different investigations that are going on — they obviously have much more context than this. But what we saw, before the election, was this Russian hacking group, part of Russian military intelligence, that I guess our government calls APT28. They were trying to do more traditional methods of hacking: Phishing people’s accounts, just getting access to people’s accounts that way.

We identified this, actually, in the middle of 2015 and notified the FBI. When we saw similar activity through the campaign in 2016, that they were trying to phish people’s accounts in both the DNC and RNC, we notified some of the people over there as well, [who] we thought were at risk.

We, around the time of the election, had given this context to the FBI. They’ve clearly gone much further now, at this point, in terms of putting the whole story together. You could see that in the indictments that Mueller just issued over the last week or so. That’s the part that I actually think we got, and were on top of.

Now, there’s a whole other area of election interference that we were slower to identify. That’s around the coordinated information operations that they were trying to run, and that was a different group. Instead of APT28, that was this group, IRA, the Internet Research Agency, which basically was just setting up a network of fake accounts, in order to spread divisive information.


Yeah. Misinformation. Divisive information.

Once we became aware of this — which we think we were too slow to being on top of that, but once we became aware of this — we developed this whole roadmap and set of techniques to go and handle that type of security threat in addition to the type of phishing and more traditional cyber attacks that we had seen before. That takes us through all the elections that we have seen since then. There’s the French presidential election, the German election, the Alabama special election, the Mexican election recently, and there were elections all around the world.

Now the playbook is: We build AI tools to go find these fake accounts, find coordinated networks of inauthentic activity and take them down; we make it much harder for anyone to advertise in ways that they shouldn’t be. A lot of tools around ad transparency, to make it so that anyone who is advertising, especially around political issue ads, will have a lot of the information, a very high standard of transparency. Higher than what you have in TV or print, or other kinds of ads there.

What took you so long? I think, as you know, many people feel disappointed with Facebook’s behavior and the slowness, given the power that you have, or the power over the market you have. I don’t wanna say what’s your excuse, but that’s kind of the question. What was the problem?

We just weren’t looking for these kind of information operations. We have a big security operation. We were focused on traditional types of hacking. We found that and notified both the government and the people who were at risk, but there’s no doubt we were too slow to identify this new kind of attack, which was a coordinated online information operation.

You can bet that that’s now a big focus of the security effort that we have here. We’re very focused on making sure that we get this right, not just broadly, but in all the elections that are coming up. 2018 is an incredibly important election year, not just with the important midterms here in the U.S., but you just had the Mexican elections. You have Brazil. You have India coming up at the beginning of next year. There’s an assortment of elections around the EU. We’re very serious about this. We know that we need to get this right. We take that responsibility very seriously.

I know you say that, but I do wanna get at, do you reflect on what it was within ‘cause you’re the leader here, you’re the head of this, that you didn’t see it? That you don’t see that side of humanity? Or, that you don’t understand your responsibility?

In retrospect, I do think it’s fair to say that we were overly idealistic and focused on more of the good parts of what connecting people and giving people a voice can bring. I think now we understand that, given where we are, both the centrality of Facebook, but also, frankly, we’re a profitable enough company to have 20,000 people go work on reviewing content, so I think that means that we have a responsibility to go do that. That’s a different position than we were in five or six years ago, or even when we went public and were a meaningfully smaller company at that point.

I do think it’s fair to say that we were probably… we were too focused on just the positives and not focused enough on some of the negatives. That said, I don’t want to leave the impression that we didn’t care about security or didn’t have thousands of people working on it before then. This was a new thing.

I think we have a lot of responsibility. The community, more than two billion people use our products, and we get that with that, a lot of people are using that for a lot of good, but we also have a responsibility to mitigate the darker things that people are gonna try to do.

When we first met many years ago, one of the things that you did tell me that was striking was you called Facebook a utility. Do you remember that?

Yeah, I called it that for a while.

At the time you meant it was a useful system. What do you call Facebook now?

I think that that is still a good description. In general, we’re a social network. I prefer that because I think it is focused on the people part of it — as opposed to some people call it social media, which I think focuses more on the content. For me, it’s always been about the people, and the reason why I called it a utility was because a lot of people used to think of it as a fad. What I was trying to communicate was, no, building a network and building relationships is one of the most core things that people do, and that is an enduring utility that people need, that is not a fad. The company shouldn’t be run to try to build something that is cool, it should be run to build something that is useful and enduring. And I still believe that.

When I think about what social networking should be... now you’ve mapped out all of the people who a person cares about. What are all the useful things that you can do for people on top of that? So I think about things like Marketplace, that we’re doing, that now people can have trust through their network and can basically go and buy and sell things more easily than they would be able to on other services.

Other examples are things like Safety Check. There are disasters that happen — Hurricane Harvey came up, and you had people self-organizing through the community and getting in boats and driving around rescuing people coordinated ad hoc through this network. That’s not a media function. That’s a social network of people coming together ad hoc to provide safety infrastructure that the world needs, so that’s kind of more how I think about what we’re doing.

Let’s talk about news.

This has been, everyday seems to be a new thing of people asking you to make determinations about what news is. The power you have over distribution is very clear — to publishers, to citizens and everyone else. How do you look at your role? Right now as we’re doing this interview, there’s a Congressional hearing going on. In that case, conservatives think that you don’t give a voice to conservatives.

Yesterday, I wrote a story, which I think you read, about other publications think you give too much voice to those. “You shouldn’t have InfoWars on here.” Let’s talk about InfoWars. Let’s use them as the example. Make the case for keeping them, and make the case for not allowing them to be distributed by you.

There are really two core principles at play here. There’s giving people a voice, so that people can express their opinions. Then, there’s keeping the community safe, which I think is really important. We’re not gonna let people plan violence or attack each other or do bad things. Within this, those principles have real trade-offs and real tug on each other. In this case, we feel like our responsibility is to prevent hoaxes from going viral and being widely distributed.

The approach that we’ve taken to false news is not to say, you can’t say something wrong on the internet. I think that that would be too extreme. Everyone gets things wrong, and if we were taking down people’s accounts when they got a few things wrong, then that would be a hard world for giving people a voice and saying that you care about that. But at the same time, I think that we have a responsibility to, when you look at… if you look at the top hundred things that are going viral or getting distribution on Facebook within any given day, I do think we have a responsibility to make sure that those aren’t hoaxes and blatant misinformation.

That’s the approach that we’ve taken. We look at the things that are getting the most distribution. If people have flag them as potential hoaxes, we send those to fact-checkers who are all well reputable and have followed standard principles for fact checking, and if those fact checkers say that it is provably false, then we will significantly reduce the distribution of that content, and if someone-

So, you move them down the line rather than get rid of them?

Yeah, in News Feed.

Why don’t you wanna just say “get off our platform?”

Look, as abhorrent as some of this content can be, I do think that it gets down to this principle of giving people a voice.

Let me give you an example of where we would take it down. In Myanmar or Sri Lanka, where there’s a history of sectarian violence, similar to the tradition in the U.S. where you can’t go into a movie theater and yell “Fire!” because that creates an imminent harm.

The principles that we have on what we remove from the service are: If it’s going to result in real harm, real physical harm, or if you’re attacking individuals, then that content shouldn’t be on the platform. There’s a lot of categories of that that we can get into, but then there’s broad debate.

Okay. “Sandy Hook didn’t happen” is not a debate. It is false. You can’t just take that down?

I agree that it is false.

I also think that going to someone who is a victim of Sandy Hook and telling them, “Hey, no, you’re a liar” — that is harassment, and we actually will take that down. But overall, let’s take this whole closer to home...

I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened.

I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong, but I think-

In the case of the Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead.

It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent. I just think, as abhorrent as some of those examples are, I think the reality is also that I get things wrong when I speak publicly. I’m sure you do. I’m sure a lot of leaders and public figures we respect do too, and I just don’t think that it is the right thing to say, “We’re going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times.” (Update: Mark has clarified these remarks here: “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.”)

What we will do is we’ll say, “Okay, you have your page, and if you’re not trying to organize harm against someone, or attacking someone, then you can put up that content on your page, even if people might disagree with it or find it offensive.” But that doesn’t mean that we have a responsibility to make it widely distributed in News Feed. I think we, actually, to the contrary-

So you move them down? Versus, in Myanmar, where you remove it?


Can I ask you that, specifically about Myanmar? How did you feel about those killings and the blame that some people put on Facebook? Do you feel responsible for those deaths?

I think that we have a responsibility to be doing more there.

I want to know how you felt.

Yes, I think that there’s a terrible situation where there’s underlying sectarian violence and intention. It is clearly the responsibility of all of the players who were involved there. So, the government, civil society, the different folks who were involved, and I think that we have an important role, given the platform, that we play, so we need to make sure that we do what we need to. We’ve significantly ramped up the investment in people who speak Burmese. It’s often hard, from where we sit, to identify who are the figures who are promoting hate and what is going to... which is the content that is going to incite violence? So it’s important that we build relationships with civil society and folks there who can help us identify that.

I want make sure that our products are used for good. At the end of the day, other people blaming us or not is actually not the thing that matters to me. It’s not that every single thing that happens on Facebook is gonna be good. This is humanity. People use tools for good and bad, but I think that we have a clear responsibility to make sure that the good is amplified and to do everything we can to mitigate the bad.

Let me give you another example. When Live came up, one of the terrible use cases where people were using ... There were a small number of uses of this, but people were using it to ... show themselves [doing] self-harm, or there were even a few cases of suicide. We looked at this, we’re like, “This is terrible. This is not what we want the product to be. This is terrible, and if this is happening and we can help prevent it, then we have a responsibility to.”

So, what did we do? We took the time to build AI tools and to hire a team of 3,000 people to be able to respond to those live videos within 10 minutes. Most content on Facebook, we try to get to within hours or within a day, if it comes up, and obviously, if someone’s gonna harm themselves, you don’t have a day or hours. You have to get to that quickly. With all the millions of videos that are posted, we had to build this combination of an AI system that could flag content that our reviewers should look at, and then hire a specific team trained and dedicated to that, so that way they could review all the things very quickly and have a very low latency.

In the last six months, we’ve been able to help first responders get to more than a thousand people who needed help quickly because of that effort.

I want to finish up on news by talking about sort of what’s going on today with conservatives versus liberals. Why won’t you make choices there, or do you feel like you just don’t want to make any, in terms of media and what should be ... How do you respond when conservatives say, “You don’t have enough conservative stuff on the platform?” You guys have responded and some people think you over-responded. How do you think you’ve done?

Well, I think it gets back to the core principles: Giving people a voice on the one hand, and keeping the community and people safe on the other hand. Our bias tends to be to want to give people a voice and let people express a wide range of opinions. I don’t think that’s a liberal or conservative thing; those are the words in the U.S.

What are your political leanings? Do you have them?

I care about specific issues very deeply and I’m not sure that aligns with any kind of specific thing. So I mean, I’m very outspoken on immigration reform. In 2013, I helped start with a number of entrepreneurs, which is a group working on immigration reform that I think recognizes that we need to secure the border and enforce laws, but that also understands that the benefits of immigration, both to the country and the economy and as a humane civil rights issue for the 11 million people who are undocumented here, is incredibly important. I mean, I’ve-

How did you feel about the border separations as a citizen?

It was terrible. Terrible.

What did you do? Did you do anything besides donate money or stuff like ...

Yeah, well I mean, the good news here is because we’ve been working on FWD for so long, it has established a lot of the infrastructure that now ... When a crisis comes up, you can’t just spin this stuff up immediately. So they’re in there and they’re able to help out.

But I mean, talking about social utility, one of the really proud moments recently of working at this company was the fact that a couple of people could-

The Willners. I had them on the podcast. Yeah, they’re great.

... start a fundraiser to raise $1500, enough to bail one person out, and they ended up raising more than $20 million. And this thing just went viral, and I think it’s a great example of when you give people a voice what positive things can happen, both substantively in terms of the fundraiser and just the widespread show of support, I think, is also really meaningful. And I think a combination of that and a number of other things like that may have been what led the administration to backtrack on the policy there.

Yeah, possibly. Possibly.

So let’s get into the idea of privacy and data. How do you assess your performance in front of Congress? It was a low bar, Mark; they didn’t do a very good job. That’s my opinion.

You thought I didn’t do a very good job?

I thought you did, but I only thought it’s because they did such a bad job.

Well look, I think a lot of people think about this from a gamesmanship perspective of like, someone’s winning and someone’s losing.

I’m there as a witness who hopefully understands some relevant context on an issue of importance to the nation, and I view my responsibility as making sure that they can get as much information as they need to in order to inform what they need to go do.

Like you saw with the Mueller indictments recently, I think some of that context probably initially came from us, but then they had to go build on that for years in terms of putting together the whole story and do very significant work on top of that. But if we can help out in ways like that, then I feel good about our contribution.

Okay. Back to the hearings, one of the things I think ... I’m not saying it’s a win/lose thing; I think they did not press you very hard on certain issues.

One is what you guys do with the data; one was the part related to Cambridge Analytica, which is what happened there, which I think is still ... You’re still investigating, it’s still being investigated by authorities in how it happened. And in that case, your defense was, “We didn’t see it, but once we saw it, we did something about it.”

What I would’ve asked is, “Why didn’t you see it?” What’s the problem in that with this data that you did not see it being misused? Because I was at your 2009 or 2008 ... I remember when you were talking about this idea.

Yeah, so the principles at play here are, on the one hand, you want people to have control over their information and be able to bring it out of Facebook to other different apps, because we’re not going to build all of the social experiences and it should be easy for people to use their data anywhere. But on the other hand, if they have that information in Facebook and the developer has some relationship with us, then we also have a responsibility to protect people and keep people safe.

And what happened here was a developer built a quiz app, and then they turned around and sold the data that people gave them to someone else. And that is clearly against all of the policies that we have. I mean, that’s terrible, right? We don’t sell data, we don’t allow anyone to sell data. Because it was on their servers, we don’t necessarily see that transaction or whatever they’re doing.

But you have, in the past, caught people doing this and been much more rigorous in that.

We do a number of things. One is, we do ongoing audits and we have built technical systems to see if a developer is requesting information in weird ways. We do spot checks where we can audit developers’ servers. But a lot of the stuff comes from flags that either people in the community or law enforcement or different folks send us, and that was actually similar here too. I think it was The Guardian who initially pointed out to us, “Hey, we think that this developer, Alexander Kogan, has sold information.” And when we learned about that, we immediately shut down the app, took away his profile, and demanded certification that the data was deleted.

Now the thing that I think, in retrospect, that we really messed up here is that we believed the certification. Now normally, I don’t know about you, but when someone writes a legal certification, my inclination is to believe that. But in retrospect, I think it’s very clear ...


You don’t?

No, I don’t believe anybody.

All right, well that’s ...

There’s an expression in journalism, “If your mother says she loves you, check it.” But go ahead.

All right, that’s fair. I tend to have more faith in the rule of law, but-

And I think the links between Peter [Thiel] on your board and [Steve] Bannon and ... It creates a really bad situation for you all, or suspect. It at least leads to people wondering what was happening there. Easily.

All right. Well I don’t think that there’s any suggestion that that stuff was connected here, but I do think-

No, but I’m just saying. It just creates a, “What the heck was going on here?”

Yeah. I think in retrospect ... You know, we didn’t know what Cambridge Analytica was there, it didn’t strike us as a sketchy thing. We just had no history with them. Knowing what I know now, we obviously would not have just taken their certification at its word and would’ve gone in and done an audit then.

Now our policy is, we are not just going to take developers at their word when they say that they aren’t misusing information; we’re going to go and audit every single developer who had a large amount of access to people’s information before we significantly lock down the amount of access that developers could get starting back in 2014.

Should someone have been fired for this?

You know-

I asked Sheryl this, so I’m just curious what you think.

Well, I think it’s a big issue. But look, I designed the platform, so if someone’s going to get fired for this, it should be me. And I think that the important thing going forward is to make sure that we get this right. In this case, the most important steps, in terms of, to prevent this from happening again, we’d already taken in 2014 when we had changed dramatically the way that the platform worked.

But overall, I mean, this is an important situation, and I think again it’s ... This to me is an example of, you get judged by how you deal with an issue when it comes up. And I think on this one, we’ve done the right things, and many of them I think we’d actually done years ago to prevent this kind of situation from happening again.

But to be clear, you’re not gonna fire yourself right now? Is that right?

Not on this podcast right now.

Okay, all right. Well that would be fantastic. I mean, I think you’ll do okay.

So let’s get to the privacy and data part of it. One of the things you kept saying in Congress, which really drove me crazy because you said it like ... I counted it.

Do you really want me to fire myself right now?

Sure. It’s fine.

Just for the news?

Yeah, why not? Whatever, Mark. Whatever works for you. No.

I think we should do what’s gonna be right for the community.

All right, okay. All right. Well I’ll get to regulation in a second, but two more sections and then you’ll be out of here.

One is, you kept saying, “Senator, we don’t sell your data. Senator, we don’t sell your data.” You kind of sell people’s data in a different way by marrying it with other data, you sell insights into that data, you sell ... Your whole business is predicated on using data to make money. Why did you keep saying that? I mean technically, you’re correct, but ...

Well I think facts do matter.

Yes, I know, but you don’t technically sell your data, but you use their data to sell advertising. So you are in essence ... What are you doing with people’s data? How would you describe it?

Well look, it bothers me when reputable news outlets make claims like saying that we sell data because it is just-

Like to Procter & Gamble. You don’t-

It’s just not true.

Right, okay.

We don’t sell data. Now, I understand what you’re saying, that the business model works basically in two ways; one is people have attention from being on the service, which is no different from the ads you’ll run during this podcast or traditional TV ads for the last 50 years. But there is an element of targeting which is that, because we understand what you’re interested in, we can show you more relevant ads to you. And people, overall, people want to know that their information is secure, and that if they give it to you, they want you to use it to make their experience good, but they don’t want you to give it to other people.

So while it may seem like a small difference to you, this distinction on “selling data,” I actually think to people it’s like the whole game, right? So we don’t sell data, we don’t give the data to anyone else, but overwhelmingly people do tell us that if they’re going to see ads on Facebook, they want the ads to be relevant; they don’t want bad ads.

Do you think people understand how much information you have on them? It’s a different factor that ever before in history, how much information you know about people.

Maybe. Although I think most people actually, on a service like Facebook or Instagram, probably have a greater awareness of the information that’s there than on a lot of other services, because in our case, you actually put it there, right? You told us that you like that thing, or you posted that photo, or said that. So I actually think people generally have an awareness and feel like, “Wow, these networks have a lot of information.”

The areas that I would actually worry about more for consumers are places where they don’t realize that services are collecting a lot of information about them, but actually are. So that’s a whole different thing.

Regulation, how much do you think is coming from if the Democrats get back in power? They’ve gotten rather hostile towards you and Google, it seems.

Well, I think you’re too focused on the U.S.

Okay, across the world. Do you see regulation being … Obviously, Europe is a place where there’s much more regulation happening and more activity. Do you see it-

The area that I think is most likely is content. So the U.S. has a very rich tradition of free speech; it is written into the Constitution, free speech, so here, we have a very strong allergic reaction to trying to regulate that. But in almost every other country in the world, while people generally want as much expression as possible, there’s some notion that something else might be more important than speech; so preventing hate or-

In Germany or wherever.

... terrorism or just different things. So you’re already starting to see this; I mean, there was the hate speech law in Germany. I think that there will be additional laws creating responsibility for social networking, and social companies, and Internet companies overall to be more proactive in policing terrorism, or bullying, or hate speech, or different kinds of content.

And overall, I think that there are good and bad ways to do that, but my general take is that a lot of that stuff can be pretty reasonable. I mean, I think we’re not kids in a dorm room anymore, right?

We’re at a point now where we’ve built AI tools to detect when terrorists are trying to spread content, and 99 percent of the terrorist content that we take down, our systems flag before any human sees them or flags them for us. And we can afford, at this point, to have 20,000 people reviewing the content.

So I think the point where you have that kind of AI technology and you have the resources to be able to employ people to do that kind of content review, I kinda think you have a responsibility to do it.

Okay. So you can handle regulation. What about the call ... There’s been some calls to break up some companies like Facebook or Amazon that become too big. Are you in fear of that in any way?

You know, I think that there’s ... It’s a very interesting debate overall. If you actually get down to why we’re big, it’s not ... In the traditional sense, we’re not big because we’re so big in the United States, although we are and a lot of people use our products here. If we weren’t an international company, if you said, “Okay, you have to shut down all of your services outside of the U.S.,” we actually would not be very profitable at all; we actually would probably be unprofitable.

So I think you have this question from a policy perspective, which is, do we want American companies to be exporting across the world? We grew up here, I think we share a lot of values that I think people hold very dear here, and I think it’s generally very good that we’re doing this, both for security reasons and from a values perspective.

Because I think that the alternative, frankly, is going to be the Chinese companies. If we adopt a stance which is that, “Okay, we’re gonna, as a country, decide that we wanna clip the wings of these companies and make it so that it’s harder for them to operate in different places, where they have to be smaller,” then there are plenty of other companies out that are willing and able to take the place of the work that we’re doing.

Specifically the Chinese companies.

Yeah. And they do not share the values that we have. I think you can bet that if the government hears word that it’s election interference or terrorism, I don’t think Chinese companies are going to wanna cooperate as much and try to aid the national interest there.

What is your situation in China now?

I mean, we’re blocked.

And are you working on moving Facebook products in there?

Over the long term. I think it’s hard to have a mission of wanting to bring the whole world closer together and leave out the biggest country.

What will that take?

I don’t know.

Where are you with China?

I mean, we’re, I think, a long time away from doing anything.

At some point, I think that we need to figure it out, but we need to figure out a solution that is in line with our principles and what we want to do, and in line with the laws there, or else it’s not going to happen. Right now, there isn’t an intersection.

All right. I wanna finish up just talking about you. This is an issue I’ve talked about a lot is Silicon Valley responsibility, and taking responsibility. And taking responsibility of your dark things, and not being quite as optimistic, and a lot of people here have a problem with looking at that. How do you look at your responsibility, as a leader? As a leader of a massive company with enormous power? Do you think you grok that at this point? Sometimes I don’t think you do. I really don’t.

Well, I think we have a responsibility to build the things that give people a voice and help people connect and help people build community, which ultimately is the unique thing that we do in the world. That, I think is one important piece of it.

But then on the other hand, I think we also have a responsibility to recognize that the tools won’t always be used for good things and we need to be there and be ready to mitigate all the negative uses, so whether that’s terrorism, or people thinking about self-harm or suicide who we need to go make sure they get help quickly, or bullying, or election interference, or fake news.

The list goes on, and there’s a lot of these things. There are very specific pieces of work that we have to do on each. I mean, just take terrorism for example. We have a team of more than 200 people working on counterterrorism. I mean, that’s pretty intense. That’s not like what people think about what Facebook is.

No, I’m sure when you were an engineer you weren’t thinking this was your ...

I do think that there will be things that we get wrong in the future, too, but I think to say that we don’t care about what’s going on, or mitigating any of the downsides of what people do, I don’t think is right. I think to say that that is the only thing that we should be focused on, I think also is not quite right because I think that what most people out there want is the ability to stay connected with the people that they love, and to be able to join communities because that’s an important part of people’s lives. If we’re not making progress on that and advancing the ball forward there too, then I also don’t think we’re doing our job.

What about the image of Facebook? It’s not great right now. Would you agree with that?

It’s not as good as it’s been.

Yeah. How does that feel personally?

I mean, personally, my take on this is that for the last 10 or 15 years, we have gotten mostly glowing and adoring attention from people, and if people wanna focus on some real issues for a couple of years, I’m fine with it.

Frankly, I think that the news industry is critically important because it points out things and surfaces truths that can often be uncomfortable. I think that that’s working, and the spotlight has been pointed on things that we have a responsibility to do better, and I accept that.

While it may not be the most fun period of running the company, I think we take the responsibility really seriously and get that in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think people are being unfair to us. I think people have been very positive and are focused on all the good that come with the technology for a long period of time. To have a period where people focus on some of the negative uses, to make sure that we fully understand that, I think is completely reasonable.

If there’s going to be a period of two years where we frankly didn’t handle a bunch of things as well as we should’ve and need to get back on top of it, then I mean, you’re not going to cry about that. You’re gonna do what you need to make it good.

What’s your goal this year? You have these goals. This year is fix Facebook. You did the Visit Every Cow In America Tour last year. What is your personal goal this year? Away from fixing Facebook?

I mean, I think that the feeling this year is that ... I’ve done these personal challenges because I think running a company can be an all-consuming thing. I think in order to have a broader perspective, you wanna do things outside of that too. Whether that’s running, or learning Mandarin, or visiting different places, or coding an AI to run my home, I think that those are all good things.

But this year, I think we have a number of issues that we need to deal with and it didn’t feel right to me to focus on something else outside. I think that this is, and interesting enough, this is an important challenge that I think we need to dedicate every fiber of what we’re doing to making sure that we get this right.

How long does that last?

Do you have any political goals? I know people thought when you did your grand tour of the United States that was what you were doing with your team of videographers, et cetera.

I mean, I care about helping to address these problems of social cohesion and understanding what economic problems people think exist. I tend to think that we all get support from three basic places: Our friends and family, the communities we’re a part of, and then, ultimately, the government with its safety net. I think as a society, we spend the vast majority of our time talking about what the government should do in the political debates.

I think we spend not enough time talking about how important community is. So you go around... I mean I saw, sit with ministers in places, and they talk about not just the religious role that they play as a religious organization, but as a community organization. One minister told me that he knew that when a factory closed down in town, he was gonna be seeing more couples for couples counseling a few weeks later because of the tension. All right. That’s a real piece of social infrastructure that needs to exist.

If people aren’t a part of those kind of organizations, then there’s a core need that people have that is not being fulfilled.

I sat down with kids in Chicago, a school where a lot of kids were in gangs. I mean, they told me the reason why people were in gangs is not because they wanted to be in a gang, they understood that it was dangerous, but because they needed a sense of community, and in a dangerous environment, they wanted to know that someone was looking after them.

Who do you look up to? Do you look up to other internet people? Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or is it there’s like an ultra male competition between and among you? Who was your mentor, would you say?

Well, I think that there are a couple. Bill Gates has always been a mentor and inspiration for me even before I knew him. Just growing up, I admired how Microsoft was mission-focused. It was a company that had a clear social goal, or that it wanted to make ... They thought that computers were gonna be valuable, and having that become ubiquitous. It was like an Apollo-like goal to me that always struck me as really nice.

Then, I think his second act of going and being one of the world’s best philanthropists has absolutely influenced me. Not only to try to follow in his footsteps and do something hopefully one day that will be as impactful as what he has done, but his lesson there that you have to start early to practice. Like anything that you want to get good at, you don’t just show up and effectively and efficiently give money away. The notion that if I want be really good at this 10 or 15 years from now, then Priscilla and I really need to be starting to work on this now. He has had, he and Melinda, and Melinda has increasingly really been a role model for us as well, just have really deeply influenced the way that I think about both work and philanthropy.

But one of the things that I’d say that I’m really lucky is that a lot of the people who I look up to the most, I get to work with every day. I mean, I think Sheryl is amazing. A lot of what I know about business and building organizations and leadership come from working with her. A lot of the other folks who I get to work with every day, Chris Cox is just an amazing person. I always tell people that you should only hire people to be on your team if you would work for them. But in an alternate universe, I would be honored to work for any of these people. I think that that is, I don’t know, that is greater gift than having some external mentors who I get to talk to once a quarter.

Okay. My very last question. Very briefly, what do you think the most exciting product area is right now? Let’s finish up on that.

Longer term, as a technologist, one of things that just excites me is there are always new computing platforms. Every 10 or 15 years a new one comes along. They’re always more native, they capture your human experience more. Immersively, you share more naturally what you’re experiencing. I just think that VR and AR are going to be a really big deal.

You can just see this trajectory from early internet, when the technology and connections were slow, most of the internet was text. Text is great, but it can be sometimes hard to capture what’s going on. Then, we all got phones with cameras on them and the internet got good enough to be primarily images. Now the networks are getting good enough that it’s primarily video. At each step along the way, we’re able to capture the human experience with greater fidelity and richness, and I think that that’s great.

Now, I do think that we’re gonna move towards this world where eventually you’ll be able to capture a whole experience that you’re in and be able to send that to someone. I think that that’s just gonna be an amazing technology for perspective taking and putting yourself in other people’s shoes, for being able to feeling like you’re really physically there with someone even when you’re not. One of the criticisms of technology today is you’re sitting and looking at your phone, and we could be sitting together but we’re actually fragmented.

No, I agree with you on VR. I’ve just been doing some recent VR stuff that’s really promising.

Yeah. I mean, there’s a few technology leaps that still need to be made, but the initial use is amazing. I just think that’s a really important technology.

I’m not sure you an give people empathy though. You can see people, the world through people’s eyes, but you can’t understand their experience, necessarily.

Yes. Although, I think there’s also an economic ... We’ve talked a lot about the social aspects of all of this, but I think one of the biggest issues economically today is that opportunity isn’t evenly distributed. You get all these people have to move to cities, and then the cities get to be way too expensive, and if you have a technology like VR where you can be present anywhere but live where you choose to, then I think that that can be really profound.

There’re really only a few solutions to this. Historically, cities have grown to be bigger by building better physical infrastructure. There’ll be some amount of that. I mean, I think things like hyperloops and things like that can extend the suburbs, could be quite interesting, but I have to believe that, we’re here in 2018, it’s much cheaper and easier to move bits around than it is atoms. It strikes me that something like VR or AR, or even video conferencing on the path to that, has to be a more likely part of the solution than just building a ton of physical infrastructure.

All right. Now you have one chance. What would you like to say to your giant nation state of Facebook right now? What is the one thing? Like, “I’m sorry for this-”

Well, we’ve talking about this for a while.

I know. but what’s the one thing they’re getting wrong about you right now? I’m gonna give you a nice out.

That’s tough. It’s always hard to say what is the one thing. I don’t know. I think that the main thing that I’ve tried to internalize this year is we get that there’s a big responsibility and a lot of things that we need to do better than we are. We are working on it, and I think a lot of them, we’re doing better already, and for the rest, we’re committed to getting to where we need to be for the community. At the same time, we also feel a responsibility to keep on moving forward on giving people tools to share their experience and connect and come together in new ways. Ultimately, that’s the unique thing that Facebook was put on this Earth to do. I think if we don’t push forward on that, we will be missing our responsibility for advancing the ball there. That’s what I care about, and we’re just very serious about making sure that we do both of those things.

This article originally appeared on

Even Better

The messy art of posting through it


The anatomy of a Facebook account heist

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court showdown over social media “censorship,” explained

View all stories in Technology

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.