Even Mark Zuckerberg Can't Stay Focused on Facebook. Libra Might Be His Worst Distraction Yet | Opinion

The news that Facebook will roll out a digital currency called Libra has been met with equal parts skepticism and intrigue. The lengthy white paper released last Thursday has given some the impression that Facebook is making the whole thing up as it goes along. The crypto world, meanwhile, is divided between those who see Libra as the final legitimisation of Bitcoin and those who view it as an existential threat.

We can agree that this is only the latest instance of the world's most powerful tech company deepening its involvement in our lives. But even if we were to assume that Facebook hadn't violated national privacy laws, granted Cambridge Analytica access to 87 million users, and been breached repeatedly by hackers (and much more besides), we should still be cautious. The sheer reach of Facebook and the companies it owns means that Libra will very quickly 'go global' in a poorly regulated space, potentially upsetting the financial balance. And the Libra Association Council, comprising members of mainstream financial institutions such as MasterCard and Visa, seems to have been assembled for the express purpose of giving users confidence and therefore ensuring maximum participation.

But users shouldn't be confident. Facebook, as illustrated by the very partial list above, does not have its house in order. The number of scandals it has faced over the past 18 months has been breathtaking. Despite many apologies and promises of change, Mark Zuckerberg has failed time and again to sufficiently protect his users' privacy and personal data. Two months after the Cambridge Analytica scandal in April last year, a software bug "may" have revealed the posts of 14 million people. In September, it was 50 million accounts that Facebook said "may" have been hacked through "access"tokens. A further 14 million were found to be vulnerable in October. Most telling of all, perhaps, were the findings of Damian Collins, chair of the British digital, culture, media and sport select committee. Some 250 pages of secret Facebook documents proved that the company had considered selling user data and prioritized Facebook's dominance over individual privacy.

This is to say nothing of the many scandals that go beyond privacy. The UN has blamed Facebook for spreading hate in Myanmar, and a string of gruesome murders in India have been linked to the spread of false information through another one of the company's platforms, WhatsApp. However you shake it, or hold it up to the light, Facebook's role in the world over the past year has not been for the good. Could it be that it is beyond the control of Mark Zuckerberg or—much worse—beyond the control of anyone? And in those circumstances, does the rolling-out of a potentially game-changing global digital currency seem appropriate?

There is another possibility: that Zuckerberg lacks focus. As Michael Galpert has reported, Facebook has a habit of constantly changing its mission statements and 'visions'. Sometimes they're even contradictory: in 2010, privacy was no longer a 'social norm'. In 2019, Facebook was 'pivoting to privacy'. Facebook continues to try to be all things to all people, often with disastrous consequences. Its incursion into the news space has damaged traditional journalism and undermined the fourth estate. In April, it was reported that Facebook was turning to that same industry for help, to find editors so it could lose its reputation as a source of misinformation.

In an effort to appease advocates and politicians like Elizabeth Warren—who has very much parked her tanks on Facebook's lawn—Zuckerberg has even suggested four "new rules" for the entirety of the internet, which would just so happen to benefit Facebook, a company that has flourished in a lawless digital world and now hopes to pull up the drawbridge. Few failed to see the move for what it was. And now, even Facebook's employees are losing faith in Mark Zuckerberg's ability to focus on what matters most. In recent days he has tumbled down the Top CEOs in 2019 list assembled by the reviews site Glassdoor.

Those employees can hardly be blamed. Though Facebook remains an effective and powerful global communication tool—one allowing users to keep up easily with the goings-on in the lives of their friends and loved ones—its efforts to involve itself in new areas at any cost, and its failure to respect those who use its platform, have come to define it. In the eyes of the public, it is no longer a social network (or indeed "The" Social Network), but something vast, unaccountable, immovable and yet enmeshed in our daily lives. And—as if that were not enough—it's run by someone who, when all has been said and done, we can't trust.

John Buni is the co-founder and CEO of CleanCloud, a global SaaS business operating in more than 70 countries. He is also the founder of Tailor Made London.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​