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The Year Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg Wants Forget

TheStreet logo TheStreet 9/27/2022 Luc Olinga
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The CEO of social media giant Meta Platforms will likely want to forget the year 2022.

The year 2022 was to be that of Mark Zuckerberg. 

The 38-year-old billionaire seemed to have put the Cambridge Analytica scandal behind him, which had tarnished Facebook's reputation. The social network had allowed the consulting firm, which partnered with the Donald Trump campaign team ahead of the 2016 presidential election, to harvest private data from tens of millions of its users that allowed it to profile voters.

The king of social networks was ready to write a new chapter and launch Facebook in a new economy still little known to the general public: the metaverse. 

Counting on the power of his empire, Zuckerberg was convinced that he and Facebook alone could bring this young industry, turned mainly toward the virtual world, to the masses. For the doubters and detractors, the billionaire has changed the name of his company to Meta Platforms  (META) - Get Meta Platforms Inc. Report. He thus held his next big thing. 

From Triumph ... to Fall

The stars were all the more well aligned as the crypto craze surged. Crypto is one of the key elements of the metaverse. And to top it all off, Facebook had managed to enter the very select club of companies valued at more than $1 trillion on Sept. 7, 2021.

Now, just over three months from the end of the year, Zuckerberg's dreams seem to have turned into a nightmare. Meta shares have fallen 58.2% to $336.35 since January. The company's market value has plummeted by $585 billion. Meta is no longer even among the Top 10 of most valuable companies in the world.

As for Zuckerberg, his fortune has largely melted away. He is no longer one of the lords of Silicon Valley. He's worth $52.6 billion as of Sept. 23, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Zuckerberg thus leaves the Top 20 ranks of the most wealthy people in the world. 

He is now only the 22nd richest person in the world, almost a sacrilege for the one who was still worth more than $125 billion in January. His fortune has shrunk by almost $73 billion since January. This is the largest individual fall in the top 500 billionaires on the planet this year.

As for the metaverse, the jury is still out on whether it's really going to become the new big thing. Almost $16 billion has been invested in this but for the moment, it remains a pit of losses.

Reality Labs, the division that houses Meta's metaverse plans, recorded a second-quarter operating loss of $2.81 billion. In the first half, losses amounted to $5.8 billion. In all of 2021, Reality Labs had a loss of $10.2 billion.

Can Zuckerberg Turn Things Around?

But the billionaire continues to ask for patience.

"I feel even more strongly now that developing these platforms will unlock hundreds of billions of dollars if not trillions over time," Zuckerberg told analysts during the second quarter earnings' call last July. "Because this is obviously a very expensive undertaking over the next several years. But as the metaverse becomes more important in every part of how we live from our social platforms and entertainment to work and education and commerce, I'm confident that we're going to be glad to play the role in building [it]."

Zuckerberg is expected on Oct. 11 to unveil the next generation of the virtual reality headset Oculus Quest (now called Meta Quest). He and Meta are betting big on this headset, which is the only thing in the metaverse that seems to work for the company.

Meta's slide, however, revives criticism and doubts about Zuckerberg.

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"I think Facebook is not going to do well as long as he’s there,” Bill George, leadership professor at Harvard Business School and former CEO of medical technology company Medtronic  (MDT) - Get Medtronic plc. Report, told CNBC. "He’s likely one of the reasons so many people are turning away from the company. He’s really lost his way.”

The horizon seems gloomy for Meta: competition had intensified in advertising with TikTok, which is stealing market share from it. 

Apple  (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report appears to have given the company the final blow by giving iPhone users control over which apps are allowed to track their movements on the internet and social media. Basically, it becomes very difficult for Meta to serve targeted ads to its billions of users.

Finally, the crypto industry is struggling.

The question therefore becomes: where to turn?

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