Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was on the University of Kansas campus on Friday preaching the value of community, although he was doing it at an event the broader Lawrence and KU communities weren’t allowed to attend.
Zuckerberg spoke to an invitation-only crowd of about 75 people Friday morning in a room at the Lied Center. His visit was a part of a year-long effort by Zuckerberg to travel to all the states he had never been to previously. At the tail end of his tour, Zuckerberg had two more states left, Missouri and Kansas. Zuckerberg was in St. Louis on Thursday. As part of an on-stage interview with KU Provost Neeli Bendapudi, Zuckerberg spent a good amount of time talking about Facebook’s new emphasis on helping people feel like they are more a part of a community.
“I think this so important that earlier this year I actually changed our company’s mission for the first time in our history to now focus on building community,” Zuckerberg said. “For the first 10 or 13 years of the company we were mostly focused on helping people connect with friends or family. We are always going to do that, but also on top of that, we want to help people build community.”
Nationally, however, questions have emerged about whether certain Facebook communities had an unhealthy influence on U.S. politics. Zuckerberg was asked about Facebook’s response to allegations that Russian forces used the social media platform to try to improperly influence the U.S. presidential elections. Zuckerberg said this topic is “really important,” that Facebook has “an enormous responsibility,” and that the company was hiring another 10,000 employees who would be devoted to safety and security issues.
“I think it is very clear at this point that the Russians tried to use these tools to sow distrust leading up to the 2016 election and afterward,” Zuckerberg said. “What they did is wrong. It is our responsibility to do everything we can to prevent them or anyone else from doing this again in the future.”
Zuckerberg said the 10,000 additional employees the company will be hiring over the next year would be used to help monitor content on Facebook and also to build tools and technology that will allow the company to better automatically detect issues on the platform.
As for his visit to Lawrence on Friday, it wasn’t immediately clear why Zuckerberg chose KU, or how the audience members were chosen to receive an inviitation. Also unclear is why the event was largely kept a secret until just minutes before it started. KU did not publicize the event in advance, other than a few minutes before the 11 a.m. appearance when KU sent a social media announcement that Zuckerberg’s interview would be live-streamed on Facebook.
It wasn’t clear whether Zuckerberg met with other KU leaders — such as Chancellor Douglas Girod — while he was on campus Friday. Several university spokespeople on Friday either did not return messages or did not have information about the event.
— Reporter Joanna Hlavacek contributed to this story.