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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday he's giving up setting annual challenges for himself and trying to take a longer view. But 2020 has already thrown down a challenge for him: threading a needle between business demands and political landmines.

The big picture: Zuckerberg has to grow revenue and users, yet not get blamed for tipping another election — and not buckle on what he views as the core value of free speech. Despite an onslaught of bad press, he seems to be succeeding ... for now.

The reality: Facebook's revenue and user base has shown consistent growth over the past year, proving that users and advertisers aren't too spooked by the drama around data privacy and misinformation. And unlike key rivals Google and Amazon, Facebook hasn’t really found itself in President Trump's crosshairs.

  • Despite outrage from Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill, there doesn't seem to be any meaningful regulation coming toward Facebook anytime soon.
  • And as the FTC's $5 billion Cambridge Analytica fine and $170 million YouTube child privacy fine last year show, big regulatory investigations into massive tech companies can deliver record penalties yet still not change the game.

Zuckerberg’s plan is coming into focus:

  1. Don't compromise on big, essential issues: On Thursday, Facebook said it wouldn’t follow rival Google and limit micro-targeting on political ads, nor would it follow rival Snapchat and begin fact-checking them.
  2. Make some cosmetic gestures: Facebook has made some small tweaks to its policy, like allowing users to opt out of political ads or certain micro-targeting options.
  3. Engage with Trump and his campaign: To minimize White House backlash, Facebook has increased engagement with the Trump administration, including through a private dinner with the president last fall.
  4. Better explain their logic: Zuckerberg has engaged in a lot more earned media these days, sitting down with the press in the U.S. and overseas frequently. In December, he did a rare joint interview with his wife Priscilla Chan for CBS News. A memo that was leaked to the New York Times yesterday lays out a trusted lieutenant's perspective on the 2020 election. It contained some awkward passages — but also helped the company explain itself.
  5. Buy favor: Facebook has jacked up its corporate ad spending significantly in the past year, especially in expensive messages targeted toward opinion leaders and policymakers. Facebook, along with its rivals, has used record lobbying dollars to try to purchase a Washington halo.

The bottom line: Facebook's public relations nightmare is far from over, but Zuckerberg is well on his way to meeting his 2020 challenge: compromise around the edges, don't buckle on things he cares about, and keep Wall Street happy.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - World

Netanyahu is out as new Israeli government survives confidence vote

Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

Israel has a new prime minister for the first time since 2009 after a power-sharing government led by Naftali Bennett survived a confidence vote on Sunday. Bennett was sworn in as prime minister.

Why it matters: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister and the man around whom Israeli politics have revolved for a decade, will now become opposition leader. Bennett, a right-wing former Netanyahu protege, will lead the most ideologically diverse government in Israeli history.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Afghanistan, cyber defense on the agenda for Biden in Brussels

Joe Biden arrives at Melsbroek Military Airport in Brussels on June 13. Photo: Yves Herman/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden touched down in Brussels on Sunday evening ahead of two days of talks with NATO and European Union leaders as part of his first foreign trip as president.

Driving the news: Biden was greeted on the tarmac by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and a slate of other officials, including Douglas Jones and Mark Libby, the U.S. Permanent Representatives to NATO and the EU respectively.

Maersk CEO: Global businesses should be wary of politics

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

The CEO of the world's largest container-shipping company cautions that international firms have to be careful of taking political stances.

  • What they're saying: "We cannot run a global business if we start to have views on politics in every single country that we are in," Maersk CEO Søren Skou tells "Axios on HBO."

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