Mark Zuckerberg has regrets. Amid growing evidence that his social network fueled the fake news phenomenon, enabled Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and leaves users feeling lonely and depressed, the Facebook CEO is anxiously trying to tame the monster he’s created. With sweeping changes announced last week, he’s hoping to turn back the clock to a time when Facebook was smaller, less controversial, less prone to manipulation. (See Best Business Columns.) The social network’s news feed will now highlight more posts from friends and family and fewer ones from news outlets and brands—a change Facebook says will make users happier and more engaged. Zuckerberg insists he’s making this shift because he wants Facebook to be “good for people’s well-being.” If it weren’t for all his billions, you’d almost feel for the guy—he set out to help college guys meet girls and ended up upending the political landscape and tearing apart the social fabric.
Facebook won’t be the last Silicon Valley giant to embark on hasty changes this year. A tech backlash has been brewing for months, with politicians, deep-pocketed investors, and consumers demanding that companies seriously reckon with whether their gadgets and platforms are doing more harm than good. Major investors just publicly implored Apple to make its devices less addictive to children. (See Technology.) Google is under fire here and abroad for abusing users’ privacy and hosting vile content on YouTube, while Amazon is accused of killing jobs and destabilizing whole sectors of the U.S. economy. Just a few years ago, it felt as if the tech world could do no wrong, that we were living in a golden age of American innovation and ingenuity. But the shine is starting to come off Silicon Valley. Our reverence hasn’t quite turned to revulsion yet. Whether Big Tech responds to this backlash with platitudes or principled change will determine that.
Carolyn O’Hara, Managing editor