Fortune

About Face

MARK ZUCKERBERG’S DORM-ROOM CREATION is worth half a trillion dollars, has 2.3 billion regular users, and dominates its corner of the online advertising industry because its ads are so effective. Now Facebook is under attack from regulators, competitors, and privacy advocates—even as its growth slows. The challenge: mollify its critics without destroying its business model. Fortune’s inside look at an impossible dilemma.

MARK ZUCKERBERG WANTS TO TALK about how Facebook is changing.

It is early February, and the 34-year-old CEO sits on a couch in his glass-walled conference room in Facebook’s newest complex, a Frank Gehry–designed structure that features a 3.6-acre rooftop garden and 40-foot redwoods. Zuckerberg summarizes Facebook’s changes around “four big categories that we’ve focused on,” all with the subtext of the immense criticism his company has faced over more than two incredibly difficult years. One category, he says, is “content governance, helping to balance free expression and safety.” He continues, “Another is principles around data privacy and, in a world where everyone is sharing a lot of information, what are the right ways to go about protecting that and giving people control.” Zuckerberg’s last two categories are “digital health and well-being,” a nod to device proliferation and screen-time overload, and “election integrity and preventing interference.”

The talking points amount to Zuckerberg’s apology tour for all the damage Facebook has wrought. On the way to building an empire worth half-a-trillion dollars, he and his company have connected friends old and new, sure, but they have also inadvertently found themselves in the middle of controversies from hate speech to data breaches. Zuckerberg wants to show that he gets it. Facebook, he says, “is moving from a reactive model of how we’re handling this stuff to one where we are building systems to get out ahead.”

A month later it becomes apparent that Zuckerberg has been rehearsing his lines, the tech-mogul equivalent of a comedian trying out material at open-mic night. In a much-heralded post on Facebook in early March, Zuckerberg announced his company would build new privacy-friendly messaging products, moving from a “town square” approach to one more akin to a living room conversation. “People should have simple, intimate places where they have clear control over who can communicate with them and confidence that no one else can access what they share,” he

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