Chris Cox, one of Facebook's earliest engineers, is returning to the social media giant as chief product officer more than a year after he left amid disagreements with CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
"Facebook and our products have never been more relevant to our future," Cox wrote in a Facebook post announcing his return. "It’s also the place I know best, and the best place for me to roll up my sleeves and dig in to help."
Cox's return is a seismic event for Facebook. Cox was instrumental in developing News Feed and, in his final year, oversaw Facebook's entire family of apps including WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram. He was also a close friend of Zuckerberg's and a member of his inner circle.
There was also speculation among Facebook insiders and the tech press that Cox was being groomed to one day take over for Zuckerberg as CEO — speculation that will undoubtedly return now that Cox is back.
Cox left Facebook in March 2019 after Zuckerberg announced a plan to integrate Facebook's family of apps and shift the company's focus away from public sharing to private and encrypted communications — a shift that is still playing out.
Cox disagreed with that direction. "We are turning a new page in our product direction," he wrote at the time. "This will be a big project and we will need leaders who are excited to see the new direction through."
Since then, Cox has been an active supporter of Democratic causes, which is likely to further inflame conservative critiques that Facebook favors liberals despite the success of conservative publications on the platform. Facebook has also resisted calls to take action on President Donald Trump’s widely criticized posts about the protests for racial justice.
Cox has donated to various progressive causes and last year co-hosted a fundraiser for former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. At a Wired event in 2019, he said, “Trump should not be our president,” citing the president’s positions on climate change.
In announcing his return to Facebook on Thursday, Cox referred to the challenges facing the world today, including "a public health crisis, an economic crisis, and now a reckoning of racial injustice."
"I reached out to Mark over a month ago and told him I’d be interested to help," Cox wrote. "I’ve been following Facebook and I’ve been encouraged by progress on so many of the big issues facing us. In the past month the world has grown more chaotic and unstable, which has only given me more resolve to help out. Our most important decisions and products are ahead of us."
Cox will officially return to the company on June 22.
Facebook also announced Thursday that it would expand the role Maxine Williams, its chief diversity officer, to help “elevate the importance of Diversity & Inclusion in our business.”
Williams, who had previously reported to human resources, will now report directly to Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and will have a direct line to the company’s top executives.
“We look forward to making more progress by elevating this important work and bringing more diverse voices into our efforts as a company,” Sandberg said in a statement.
Facebook also said it will commemorate Juneteenth, the holiday marking the end of slavery in America, "with a day of learning…. cancelling all meetings and engaging in conversation about the history, experiences and issues that Black Americans still face.”