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Mark Zuckerberg wants to get back to building new Facebook products

After two years of dealing with Russia and fake news and privacy debacles, the Facebook CEO seems ready to change the subject.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg did not sound like a man who is fighting with Apple. Or is being investigated by the FTC. Or who spent the past 18 months navigating privacy scandals.

On Wednesday, when the Facebook CEO took questions from analysts after reporting better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings, Zuckerberg sounded like a man who’s ready to get back to doing what he likes best: building products.

Zuckerberg started the call by laying out his key priorities for the year, one of which was to “deliver new experiences.”

“I’m talking about major improvements to people’s lives that whole communities recognize and say, ‘Wow, we’re all doing something new on Facebook or on WhatsApp that we weren’t doing before,’” Zuckerberg explained.

The last time Facebook made a major improvement like this, he said, was when it launched Stories in all of its apps — that’s the disappearing photo and video montages that Facebook stole from Snapchat. Zuckerberg wants to find the next version of Stories in 2019.

He listed a handful of products that might become the company’s next big hit: Shopping on Instagram. A new Oculus headset. Facebook Watch.

But whatever that product ultimately is doesn’t really matter at this point. What does matter is that after two years of dealing with Russia and fake news and privacy debacles, Zuckerberg seems ready to change the subject.

“The reality is we put most of our energy into security over the past 18 months so that building new experiences wasn’t the priority over that period,” he said. “So this year, I think we’re going to deliver several of these new experiences.”

That doesn’t mean Facebook isn’t trying to track down bots or fight fake news anymore. Facebook’s top priority remains “making progress on the major social issues,” Zuckerberg said, efforts like election integrity that Facebook claims will cut into profits and cost the company time and resources.

But the fact that Zuckerberg is starting to talk about life beyond Facebook security improvements could mean a number of different things:

  1. The challenges Facebook is facing — from Apple to potential regulation to user growth plateauing in key markets — just aren’t that concerning.
  2. Zuckerberg is underestimating the challenges that lie ahead for Facebook — like Apple, potential regulation, and user growth plateauing in key markets.
  3. Zuckerberg is just ready to start talking about something — anything — else.

Maybe it’s a mix of all three. Or maybe his comments on Wednesday were just the typical, positive, we look toward the future kind of statements that you tend to hear when companies report quarterly earnings. We won’t really know until Facebook starts shipping more products.

In any case, you could understand by looking at the company’s Q4 numbers why Zuckerberg might feel like he’s able to change the subject. Despite Facebook’s past two years of chaos — we mentioned the privacy debacles, right? — Facebook’s business is bigger than ever.

Sales in Q4 were better than expected, and Facebook brought in almost $56 billion in revenue last year, a 37 percent jump over 2017. Facebook added users in the US and Canada for the first time in almost a year. And its Instagram Stories product now has 500 million daily users, approaching three times as many users as Snapchat.

Which is all a healthy reminder that despite all the grumbling about Facebook’s privacy mishaps, users are still using Facebook’s apps and advertisers are still buying Facebook’s ads. Facebook’s scandals don’t make for positive press, but they don’t seem to hurt business, either.

So stay tuned. Facebook wants to make people go “wow” this year for something that doesn’t involve a data leak. We’ll see if they can do it.

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