- Calls for management changes dominated Facebook’s annual shareholder meeting on Thursday.
- Several attendees asked CEO Mark Zuckerberg to cede some control.
- The shareholders said the changes were needed so that the company could more capably combat the spread of misinformation and hate speech on the social network.
- “We are sick and tired of apologies,” one attendee said.
- All the shareholder proposals seeking changes were defeated, as expected, because of Zuckerberg’s majority control of the votes.
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Mark Zuckerberg faced a lineup of critics on Thursday urging him to relinquish some of his power over the world’s largest social network during a fraught shareholder meeting in which the 34-year-old CEO and his leadership team swatted away calls for management changes at Facebook while promising to do better.
Several attendees who took the floor at Facebook’s annual meeting on Thursday blamed Zuckerberg for the spread of misinformation and toxic content on the social network, and they asked whether he was open to changes, such as stepping down as chairman of the company board and breaking up the company.
The answer in all cases was no.
Zuckerberg reiterated his calls for government regulations to address what he called societal problems involving acceptable political speech and personal privacy.
“There are limits to what an individual company should be deciding on this,” Zuckerberg said.
But he dodged attempts to hold him accountable and sidestepped shareholder calls for changes to his own role.
When a shareholder asked Zuckerberg whether he would be willing to resign as board chairman and eliminate the supervoting shares that give him majority control of the company, Zuckerberg launched into remarks about the importance of government regulation. When the shareholder tried to steer Zuckerberg back to the question, the moderator announced that each person was limited to one question and moved on.
Another shareholder insisted that he be allowed to address Susan Desmond-Hellmann, Facebook’s lead independent director, asking if she would convene a special meeting to replace Zuckerberg as chairman.
“The answer is no. I don’t have the intention of calling such a meeting and as outlined in the proxy that’s not the direction we want to take the company,” Desmond-Hellmann replied.
A slate of eight shareholder proposals, several of which sought to limit Zuckerberg’s power, were all voted down. That was no surprise, given that Zuckerberg controls the majority of the vote through the supervoting shares.
A full tally of the votes, expected within four days, will provide a more meaningful measure of the level of discontent or support for Zuckerberg among shareholders.
‘My neighbourhood has become unsafe’
The meeting comes at a time when Facebook is under attack from both sides of the political spectrum, with critics, including several presidential candidates, saying Facebook’s ownership of Instagram and the messaging app WhatsApp makes the company too powerful. There have been several calls to break up the company, including from Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes.
Facebook has 2.7 billion users who use one or more of its products every month, the company said on Thursday, and 2.1 billion people use one of its services every day.
Arielle Cohen, an attendee who spoke at the meeting, said she had friends who belonged to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that was attacked by a gunman who killed 11 people in October.
“We are sick and tired of apologies,” she said.
“Facebook is in many ways my neighbourhood,” said Cohen, who described herself as a millennial who grew up online. “Under the direction of Zuckerberg and Sandberg, my neighbourhood has become unsafe.”
Another attendee, wearing a hoodie that read “Men are Trash,” faulted the company for allowing racists to run free on the social network while labelling the clothes that her business sells as hate speech and banning her shop on Facebook.
Facebook was also criticised by some conservative attendees who pressed the company to implement policies that ensure “ideological diversity” among employees. Citing an outspoken Facebook engineer who left in 2018after blasting the social network for being intolerant of non-liberal viewpoints, the attendee alleged that Facebook is censoring conservative voices – a claim championed by President Donald Trump.
“Facebook would be much less likely to engage in bias against conservatives if it had a few right-leaning folks in positions of power,” the attendee said, even as he acknowledged that Trump supporter Peter Thielis on the Facebook board of directors.
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