The former head of Facebook Australia believes the company’s global chief Mark Zuckerberg has too much power over the company, a dynamic which is hampering the social media giant’s ability to address its growing problems.

“There’s no power that keeps [Zuckerberg] accountable,” former Facebook Australia CEO Stephen Scheeler told Which-50 today.

“He controls the board, he can’t be removed from his job. And I just think that creates bad incentives for how decisions get made and creates room for hubris and arrogance to come in.”

Earlier this month, leaked audio revealed Zuckerberg speaking candidly with employees on a range of topics including Facebook’s latest scandals and a potential breakup of the company.

Zuckerberg repeatedly joked about how he would have been fired several times had he not negotiated complete control of the company, according to The Verge, which published the audio.

Scheeler, who now runs the annual CEBIT business technology mega conference, being held next week, says he still likes his former boss and is sympathetic to the situation Facebook is in.

He says Facebook is under pressure to mediate content and remove disinformation without becoming an arbiter of truth. And to do so at a “scale and consequence that have never been conceived before”. 

Overall, he says, Zuckerberg has been a “terrific benefit to the world so far” but the global CEO’s current role in relation to the company is now closer to a “dictator” rather than an elected “Prime Minister” with checks and balances.

Future of Facebook

Facebook has faced increased scrutiny in the last several years but Scheeler says the platform isn’t going away anytime soon. However, the platform, and how people use it could be very different in the future.

“Digital channels have risen up in an era where there’s been no understanding [or] very little understanding on the part of users or viewers about the value of their data and their eyeballs … So the missing piece today is individual people having an understanding and control of their data footprint. That’s what’s missing.”

Scheeler says the value and control of people’s data will improve but could take another 10 to 15 years.

“We are going to have more control over [data], we’re going to have more visibility of it, we are going to determine who uses it and doesn’t use it … That doesn’t mean Facebook’s going to disappear or data is not going to be used. It’s just going to be under the control of all of us as individuals. And right now we’re in an era where that doesn’t exist.”

Reaching that point will require a proactive approach and cooperation from platforms, governments, and end users. Scheeler says progress from the stakeholders won’t happen at the same rate, however, and governments may need to “step in for a while to force things that happen while people are catching up”.

Scheeler says breaking up big tech companies like Facebook – one of the pledges of Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren – won’t necessarily solve the current problems with digital platforms.

“The world’s not going to stop turning on its axis if Facebook is broken up. But I think it doesn’t solve a lot of the problems that people are concerned about.”

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