On the evening of May 29, large “Fire Zuck” messages were projected onto the Hotel Nia in Menlo Park, Calif., the site of Facebook’s annual meeting the following day. However, despite facing more resistance than in years past, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg isn’t going anywhere.
Much has changed since the company’s annual meeting last year, with Facebook undergoing a brutal 2018, lowlighted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal. And 2019 is not looking much better.
Facebook has a dual-class structure of class-A and class-B shares. Class-A represents the shares that are available to all via the stock market and count for one vote apiece. The class-B shares are controlled by Zuckerberg and a small group of company insiders, and each one counts for 10 votes.
CNBC estimated last year that those insiders control nearly 70% of voting shares in the company, with Zuckerberg himself controlling nearly 60%. As long as the current structure remains, Zuckerberg would have to fire himself.
Nonprofit Fight for the Future was behind the projected messages last week, explaining in a blog post, “Facebook has violated billions of people’s basic rights, harvested and abused our data in nauseating ways and shown reckless disregard for the human impact of its products. Zuckerberg has been the sole leader of Facebook for its entire 15 years of existence. In that time, there has been no attempt to move away from a business model reliant on violating user privacy. Facebook’s current business practices are fundamentally at odds with democracy and human rights.”
Fight for the Future stressed that although no one single action can serve as a “silver bullet” to fix the social network’s myriad of problems, “Ousting Mark Zuckerberg is an important first step toward affecting real change.”
The blog post also contained a link to this petition, urging Zuckerberg to step down.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment about the “Fire Zuck” messages or Fight for the Future’s blog post.
At last Thursday’s annual meeting, a shareholder proposal to give each share an equal vote was predictably voted down, with the total of 1,392,113,978 shares that voted for it dwarfed by the 4,292,373,648 that rejected it.
The proposal pointed out that Zuckerberg controls a majority of the votes despite owning just 13% of the economic value of the company, as well as noting that the value of Facebook stock has been down by as much as 40% since July 2018.
It also stated that the Council for Institutional Investors recommends a seven-year phase-out of dual-class share offerings, and it concluded, “Fake news, election interference and threats to our democracy—shareholders need more than deny, deflect and delay. We urge shareholders to vote for a recapitalization plan for all outstanding stock to have one vote per share.”
A similar proposal at Facebook’s 2018 annual meeting was voted down by a count of 4,740,657,280 to 1,285,843,555, so the gap narrowed a bit over the past year, but not enough to set any wheels in motion.
One bright spot of this year’s annual meeting: Facebook now has its first female African-American board member, as PayPal senior vice president for core markets Peggy Alford was voted in.
Despite the grim chances of success, Fight for the Future showed no signals of abandoning its fight, saying in an op-ed in The Guardian last month: “Hefty fines, civil rights audits, antitrust, data privacy legislation, shareholder activism and employee organizing can all play a role. But we don’t just need regulation, we need a revolution—a massive cultural shift in how we think about our personal information and the companies that profit by collecting it.”
Barring drastic changes in Facebook’s stock structure, that revolution may never get off the ground.