Only losing users will get Zuckerberg’s attention

epa07944416 Chairman and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the US House Financial Services Committee hearing on 'An Examination of Facebook and Its Impact on the Financial Services and Housing Sectors', on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 23 October 2019. Zuckerberg faces questions from lawmakers concerned over issues with the cryptocurrecy Libra, financial data and potential misinformation on Facebook surrounding the 2020 US presidential election. EPA-EFE/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

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By Gina Chon

Mark Zuckerberg says he’s listening to criticism of the way he handled President Donald Trump’s inflammatory posts on Facebook . Some employees, and civil rights groups, aren’t convinced. As it is, the $661 billion social network’s co-founder has little incentive to act, because Facebook is performing strongly just as it is.

Facebook’s boss on Tuesday stood by his decision not to remove or flag a comment by Trump that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” though he acknowledged employees might be upset, the New York Times reported. A day earlier, some workers had staged a virtual walkout over Trump’s posts, which followed demonstrations and violence in dozens of U.S. cities. Zuckerberg said the remarks didn’t violate Facebook’s policies. In contrast, Twitter warned users that Trump’s statement glorified violence. Zuckerberg also failed to impress civil rights groups he spoke with, who said on Monday that he refused to acknowledge how he was facilitating calls for violence.

Facebook has only become stronger amid the pandemic that preceded the ongoing protests. Lockdown orders have spurred more people to connect virtually. The company’s monthly active users in the first quarter for its family of platforms, which include photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp, hit 3 billion for the first time. While ad revenue took a hit, it has stabilized since, and user engagement has soared.

The economic devastation caused by the outbreak also gives employees less leverage. Several workers took the unusual step of tweeting their critiques of Facebook. Timothy Aveni, a software engineer, said in a LinkedIn post on Monday that he’s quitting in protest and asked people to get in touch with job openings in the Bay area. But a wave of resignations is unlikely. Ride-sharing firms Uber Technologies and Lyft , along with online review site Yelp and coupons service Groupon, have let thousands of workers go over the last month. Google parent Alphabet dropped plans to hire 20,000 people this year.

Facebook has survived – and grown its user numbers – through privacy scandals, government probes and the use of its platforms by Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. As long as his decisions don’t scare away too many of Facebook’s 2.4 billion daily users, it’s a fair bet Zuckerberg will stay the course.

Gina Chon is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

 

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