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Zuckerberg Friend Cox Returns to Facebook as Product Chief

Kurt Wagner

(Bloomberg) -- Chris Cox, who spent most of the past decade as one of Facebook Inc.’s senior executives before departing last year, is returning to the embattled social media giant as chief product officer.

“Facebook and our products have never been more relevant to our future,” Cox wrote in a post Thursday on the social network announcing his move. “It’s the place I know best, it’s a place I’ve helped to build, and it’s the best place for me to roll up my sleeves and dig in to help.”

Cox returns at a crucial time for Facebook, which is struggling with internal strife over how to police its platform in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The company’s decision last month to leave up controversial posts from U.S. President Donald Trump led many employees to publicly criticize Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, with some workers holding a virtual walkout and a handful quitting in protest.

Facebook has made the 2020 election a priority following revelations that its apps were used by foreign actors during the 2016 campaign to spread misinformation and sow division. Earlier on Thursday, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden took aim at the social network’s policies on political speech, circulating a petition and open letter that ask the company to remove viral misinformation and to prevent candidates from spreading inaccurate information, among other steps.

Cox may provide a morale boost. Before his departure, he was well-respected among employees and for years was one of the first Facebook executives that most employees met as part of their orientation training. Cox was overseeing all of Facebook’s apps when he announced his resignation last March, in part because he disagreed with the company’s decision to shift more aggressively to encrypted messaging. His departure was seen as a major blow, considering his seniority and relationship to Zuckerberg -- the two are close friends, and their families have vacationed together over the years. “We saw things a little bit differently,” he said at a Wired conference last November.

Now, Cox returns to his prior role -- as product chief, the heads of Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger will report to him. Facebook is not only preparing for the election, but is also in the process of integrating its messaging services and knitting together its individual brands under the Facebook label.

“In the past month the world has grown more chaotic and unstable, which has only given me more resolve to help out,” Cox wrote. “Our most important decisions and products are ahead of us.”

(Updates with details from Cox’s history starting in fifth paragraph.)

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