Facebook Shareholders Ask Company Leaders for More Accountability
VOA News/Michelle Quinn
MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA — Outside Facebook’s annual shareholders meeting Thursday, a lone protester paced on the sidewalk, carrying a U.S. flag and a sign that read “Zuckerberg destroys shareholder value.”
Above, a small plane pulled a banner that read “You Broke Democracy.”
Inside, Facebook shareholders offered both praise and criticism of the company’s leadership.
The social media giant has been in a constant spotlight over how foreign actors used its service to try to influence elections worldwide. It suffered a double blow when it was revealed that 87 million users’ information had gone to a political consulting firm without the users’ knowledge.
The company continues to face inquiries from federal and state regulators about privacy and user data issues. And Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, recently testified in front of the European Parliament after appearing in front of Congress on the issues.
Shareholders sound off
Facebook shareholders provided another sort of oversight. Many expressed their displeasure by selling shares in March after it was disclosed that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, obtained user data without their knowledge. Facebook shares have more than recovered since then, rising 2 percent Thursday to $191.78, which was up 26 percent from the company’s three-month low of $152 in March.
“We didn’t do enough to see how people could abuse these tools,” Zuckerberg told the shareholders.
“The main thing we need to do right now is take a broader view of our responsibility to the community we serve,” he said.
Investors applauded Zuckerberg several times during the meeting. And they followed the company’s advice and appeared to vote down shareholder proposals, including one that would change the voting power of company shares. Currently, Zuckerberg, 34, and insiders hold a class of stock that gives them more than 60 percent of the voting power.
Shareholders also appeared to vote against other proposals such as requiring the company to report on its gender pay gap and a content report that would show how the company enforces its terms of service worldwide. (Official results of the tally will be posted in the next several days.)
Despite the defeats, shareholder proposals are worthwhile, said Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital, an activist investment firm behind two proposals.
They “send a signal to management, send a signal to the board,” she said.
Diversity of ideas
Amid the applause, there was also sharp criticism.
“We contend that Facebook’s poor stewardship of user data is tantamount to a human rights violation,” said Christine Jantz, chief investment officer at Northstar Asset Management.
Another investor asked what Facebook was doing to understand political bias among its employees and how that affects decisions about content on the site.
Zuckerberg said the company was “committed to being a platform for all ideas.”
The company ended the meeting, but not before a shareholder pleaded, “Engage with us on these issues. We are on the same team.”
Company leaders said they would.
Deana Mitchell contributed to this report