“We will keep building:” At F8, Mark Zuckerberg breezed past Facebook’s transgressions

Mark Zuckerberg having fun.
Mark Zuckerberg having fun.
Image: Reuters/Stephen Lam
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San Jose, California

Facebook just posted excellent quarterly earnings while attempting to recover from a major scandal. Based on Mark Zuckerberg’s mood, it appears he’s more focused on the former.

The CEO’s keynote address at Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference today (May 1) was expected to be somewhat humble, with overtones of contrition for Facebook’s privacy-related sins. Instead, he played to the friendly crowd at San Jose’s McEnery Convention Center, who greeted Zuckerberg with cheers and “woop-woops.”

In perhaps the most jarring moment of the speech, Zuckerberg joked about his recent Congressional testimony while describing one of Facebook’s new features, “Watch Party,” which allows users to watch live streams with their friends. “Let’s say your friend is testifying in Congress,” he said, prompting laughter from the audience, as the screen displayed video of his big day in Washington as an example of the feature. You can bring your friends together, you can laugh together. Let’s not do that again anytime soon.”

In contrast to the formal suit-and-tie look he took to Congress in April, Zuckerberg sported a casual, blue-gray, long-sleeve tee and black jeans at F8. He also left behind the somber, measured tone he’d used before US politicians, aiming to keep the developers who rely upon Facebook in good spirits—particularly since the company has curtailed developers’ access to user data in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

“This has been an intense year! I can’t believe we’re only four months in,” the animated CEO told the crowd. “I know it hasn’t been easy being a developer these last couple of months. And that’s an understatement.”

I know the vast majority of you here are focused on building good things,” he added. Zuckerberg characterized the Cambridge Analytica scandal as a breach of trust, but emphasized that a single bad actor was largely to blame for the data harvesting. (Presumably, Zuckerberg was referring to researcher Aleksandr Kogan, though he did not actually name anyone.)

Zuckerberg acknowledged the big issues weighing on Facebook, from privacy concerns to Russian interference in the US elections and the problem of fake news. “We need to take a broader view of our responsibility,” he said, repeating his favorite phrase of recent weeks. “We also have a responsibility to move forward.”

While Zuckerberg admitted the company had made mistakes, he emphasized that Facebook is going above and beyond to fix them. He even went as far as to describe Facebook’s ad transparency standards as higher than those of “anyone else on the internet.”

As expected, the F8 keynote included several announcements that could help distract from Facebook’s problems. Perhaps most important was the introduction of several new features that will make Facebook into a dating platform. “I can’t tell you how many times a couple will come up to me and say they met on Facebook,” Zuckerberg said.

During Zuckerberg’s Congressional testimony, he said the company’s longtime motto, “Move fast and break things,” was outdated, and that the company no longer functioned that way. Based on his keynote speech, Facebook’s new motto may be “keep building,” which he repeated several times. “Yes, this is an important moment. We need to do more to keep people safe and we will. We also need to keep building.” But he seemed to admit the company will keep breaking things, too.

“I believe that we need to design technology to help bring people closer together,” he said. “There’s no guarantee that we get this right, this is hard stuff. We will make mistakes, and they will have consequences, and we will have to fix them. But what I can guarantee is that if we don’t work on this, the world isn’t moving in this direction by itself. That is what we are all here to do.”