Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on his personal Facebook page his intent to sell 35 to 75 million shares of his Facebook stock over the next 18 months to fund his Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (a limited liability company founded by Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan). This could amount to as much as $13 billion being invested in “advancing human potential and promoting equal opportunity.”
Over the past year and a half, Facebook’s business has performed well and the value of our stock has grown to the point that I can fully fund our philanthropy and retain voting control of Facebook for 20 years or more. As a result, I’ve asked our board to withdraw the proposal to reclassify our stock—and the board has agreed.
Here’s the world’s fifth-wealthiest person, who’s also pledged to give away 99 percent of his shares in Facebook in his lifetime, moving to greatly accelerate the funding of his LLC. That mighty wave called “philanthropy” that’s rolled on through the centuries is seemingly carrying Zuckerberg on its crest, and everyone seems to be focusing instead on possible ulterior motives. Most of philanthropy could be likened to striking a match, with a devoted team guarding the fragile flame with their hands. Zuckerberg offers a propane lighter and no one seems to notice.
Recode asks six questions about Zuckerberg’s announcement, from the timing of his withdrawing his proposal to split the company’s stock (just four days before he was to testify in open court in a shareholder class-action lawsuit) to whether Zuckerberg can work in government and still control Facebook. The New York Times op-ed columnist, Maureen Dowd, cut deeper, recalling a conversation she had with Elon Musk about the “very scary” question of Zuckerberg running for president. “As Musk told me when he sat for a Vanity Fair piece: ‘It’s great when the emperor is Marcus Aurelius. It’s not so great when the emperor is Caligula.’”
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Many worry that Facebook is too powerful with too little oversight. Several days ago, Bloomberg Businessweek’s cover story reported that special counsel Robert Mueller has made Facebook a focus of his investigation into collusion between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s campaign, and that Zuckerberg’s tour of America since last January involves former senior Obama White House officials and Hillary Clinton’s pollster managing every step. From European antitrust regulators to Mueller’s investigation, a brooding alienation seems to dampen the public’s enthusiasm for his philanthropic initiative. Bloomberg describes the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative simply as a “company” that “designs and develops software tools” and “offers medical research solutions” to “customers in the United States.”
The carefully maintained public image of Zuckerberg is sunny, though, and he concludes his Facebook announcement with his usual optimism.
We have a lot of work ahead at Facebook to help build community and bring the world closer together. We also have a lot of work at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative working with amazing scientists, educators, and doctors around the world who need support today, not decades from now. This path offers a way to do all of this, and I’m looking forward to making more progress together.
But we wonder, who is being brought together? It doesn’t feel like we’re together. And where are we all going again?—Jim Schaffer