Mark Zuckerberg Declines to Make Mark Zuckerberg Less Powerful

Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty)

Mark Zuckerberg is still in power at Facebook.

At the company’s annual meeting on Thursday, Facebook stockholders rejected multiple proposals to limit the power of the social network’s founder and executive.

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It’s not a surprise that the proposals failed—no one expected otherwise. That’s because, as Facebook’s power structure is currently laid out, it’s Zuckerberg himself who holds ultimate authority on all stockholder votes. So when I say “Facebook stockholders” made a decision, that’s technically the truth, but really it’s Zuckerberg himself who gets to decide just how much power Zuckerberg retains at the company.

Unless he votes to limit his own power in the company, proposals like these are doomed to fail at the meetings—they do, however, succeed in raising the critic’s myriad complaints to a wide audience at a sensitive and important moment for the company.

At Thursday’s meeting, critics brought forth proposals to make fundamental changes at Facebook that they justified due to a seemingly endless torrent of scandal hitting the world’s biggest social network. Issues including free speech, safety, election interference, and privacy problems from Facebook’s recent dizzying cycle of scandal-apology-scandal were used as sharp attacks against Zuckerberg.

After shutting down the latest mini-revolt—it’s not yet clear how many shareholders voted to give Zuck the boot—Zuckerberg came on stage and reiterated his promises to change the way the company makes progress on those issues. It was, for the most part, a replay of his speech at F8 earlier this month in which he promised to make change the company’s priority.

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For a company so frequently plagued by scandal, however, the bottom line hasn’t been impacted much at all: Facebook’s revenue and user numbers are both considerably up this year.

Zuckerberg personally controls approximately 60 percent of Facebook’s voting shares, according to the SEC. One proposal made at the company’s annual meeting would have restructured voting so that, with all voting shares made equal, Zuckerberg’s power would shrink to the point that it disappeared. For the fifth year in a row, the proposal was defeated. Another failed proposal would have removed Zuckerberg as chairman.

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Critics and investors who raised the proposals knew full that the result was never in question. The goal is that the public pressure moves both Facebook and regulators to act.

Facebook’s former chief information security officer, Alex Stamos, said in an interview earlier this month that “there is a legitimate argument that he has too much power” and “he needs to give up some of that power. If I was him, I would go hire a new CEO for the company. He’s already acting as the chief product officer with Chris Cox gone, that’s where his passion is. He should hire a CEO that can help signal both internally and externally that the culture has to change.”

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Stamos’ comments followed a sweeping op-ed in the New York Times by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who argued that “government must hold Mark accountable” because he’s too powerful.

“Mark alone can decide how to configure Facebook’s algorithms to determine what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered,” wrote Hughes, who left the company in 2007. “He sets the rules for how to distinguish violent and incendiary speech from the merely offensive, and he can choose to shut down a competitor by acquiring, blocking or copying it.”

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Outside the meeting, activists projected the words “FIRE ZUCK” on to the hotel’s walls.

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In the end, Zuck did not fire Zuck.

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About the author

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Reporter in Silicon Valley. Contact me: Email poneill@gizmodo.com, Signal +1-650-488-7247