Kara Swisher is the executive editor of Recode, a technology website owned by Vox, where she also hosts the Recode Decode podcast. Swisher is the co-executive producer of the Code Conference, an annual gathering of the leaders of influential technology companies. This is the transcript of an interview with Frontline’s James Jacoby conducted on May 23, 2018. It has been edited in parts for clarity and length.
All right. So let’s start in ’08.
There’s an interview you conduct with Mark and Sheryl in ’08 where you’re actually giving them some grief about the media company aspect of things….
It was their first joint interview.
Tell me about that. I mean why that line of questioning from you at that point in time?
Well, Mark had just started to talk about these apps on the platform, and there were a lot of companies that, sort of like remora fish, lived off of Facebook. So they were making a big deal about the platform and how it was a platform [to] facilitate apps and create businesses like Words with Friends or a lot of the Zynga games, all kinds of them, Farmville. I was really interested that all these people were present on their platform, near their data. I was worried about that, because a lot of these were small companies. I knew them, so I was concerned about the theories, which he did in a speech at F8 about the idea of bringing all these partners onto the platform and sharing data.
What was their concern level at the time about the things you were concerned about?
Zero. I mean, I think what’s interesting about Facebook is they’ve had a history of doing this, of misusing data. It didn’t begin now. Then, that they are shocked, shocked that gambling is going on in this place, is really kind of interesting, because it started long before when they had a – I’m blanking on the name of it, but they had a product that would tell you what someone bought.
Beacon, right, Beacon. They apologized for that. It went on and on, for years and years, of apologizing for privacy violations. It seemed to me the apologies were sort of empty because they continued to not pay attention to privacy issues when they had so much information about [their] users.
Facebook’s Move Into News
In 2008, for instance, you were asking them about why they wouldn’t call themselves a media company.
Why were you asking that at the time?
Because they are a media company. Because I just was trying to point out the obvious, that they don’t like the term “regular media company,” where they made content and they had reporters and things like that. That was in their head. That wasn’t in my head. The idea that there are different kinds of media companies happening, where they had an enormous say over what people read and what people heard and what people saw, that’s a media company to me. Maybe it’s a new media company, but it’s a media company, and they seemed to abrogate the responsibility that comes with being that – for lots of reasons, because platforms are more protected than media companies – but that’s where they were headed, and they seemed to pretend they were not.
So is that a kind of basic lie at the heart of what Facebook actually is?
I don’t know if it’s a lie. It’s just a conception of what the future is. They are in the center of news distribution, for example. They’re not just news distribution, but when they kept adding on photos and the News Feed – they called it a “News Feed.” They didn’t call it a “feed”; they called it a “News Feed.” So that’s what it is. It’s the news of the day, and they would like to call it a community more than what it is.
So if it’s not a community, then what is it, or what was it becoming?
Well, it was a community, too. It was a utility. Mark, when I first met him, called it a utility and that it was useful for using things. He was actually putting himself out like he was a government thing, in a weird way. So it’s parts of a community where people meet; it’s parts where people communicate; and then they added on the News Feed, and then they added on Instagram. They just keep adding on things that looked to me like a media company, and then they pretend it’s not. And I am always perplexed by that.
Is it in order to avoid taking on responsibility?
I don’t know if they think quite like that. Yes, yes. Ultimately, yes, it is, and that’s my whole problem with them is that they refuse to take responsibility for what they build, even recently when we did an interview with Mark, where he said, “I don’t want to sit at my desk in California and make decisions about the platform,” and I was like, “Well, Dr. Frankenstein, you made the monster, so why don’t you want to take responsibility for the monster?” It’s this mentality that they don’t want to make value decisions, and media companies make value decisions all the time, right? You have to. You have to make people angry, and they don’t want to do that….
… But meeting [Mark Zuckerberg] as a kid, what were your impressions of who he was and what was motivating him at the time?
…Well, I think he was a person in development. One great thing about Mark, which I admire compared to a lot of other people I cover, is he’s a learning organism, so he wants to improve himself. He’s an improvement machine, sort of like a Dale Carnegie-done-geek essentially. He does his “eating” things and his “hunting” things – like he does that challenge every year – going to visit all the states. Very Mark. Everyone was sort of surprised. I was like, “No, that sounds like him.” I like that about him, and I like that he’s tried to be a better communicator. He had problems communicating and being in public. He tried to fix that. And I think he means well. …
Silicon Valley Culture
One of the things you’ve spoken about in the past [is] the sort of young-white-male culture, especially in those years, like 2008, 2009, in Silicon Valley. What was the prevailing ethos at that point in time?
Well, Mark was the upcoming God essentially, the demigod at the time. There were others. Obviously, Steve Jobs was at the very top of Mount Olympus in people’s minds, but Mark was coming up. And I think what’s really hard for a lot of people like Mark, one of the things, he’s very stubborn, and he has concept, but he can be convinced. I’ve felt like I’ve had discussions with him where I moved him on some thoughts, and other people have had that experience with him. So he does listen, and he does care. Really, he does, or at least he’s faking it really well. But he was the one everybody looked up to by then. I think a little later it got even more so, after they went public.
But, you know, you have this situation where everybody looks up to you. … Everyone’s complimenting you, and it changes you. It changes you as a person. You always think you’re right. You don’t tolerate dissent. Your decisions are the right decisions, and you don’t realize the responsibility you hold as you have more and more power. I think that’s what happens.
What were you trying to call them out for being responsible for?
Recently or – ?
No, no, back then.
Same stuff, same stuff. It’s that they are responsible. Privacy was my number one concern back then. They held an enormous amount of information on people, and I had been covering this stuff since the ’90s, and you could just see more and more information being loaded about people, whatever they did.
What happened in the 2008 period was the cell phone. When you’re on a website on a computer, you type a website, and you go to a website, and then maybe you click on another website you go to. But when you get the phone involved, they know where you are, what you did, who you called, where you went. And it seemed to me, it amplified it in a way that was much more disturbing in terms of tracking people. In the cell phone, there really was a change, from my perspective, in that you had so much more information about people, so the people that were doing this had more responsibility in protecting that data and using it. I was always concerned with that.
Interviewing Mark Zuckerberg
So 2010, you do this now-famous interview.
Bring me into what headspace you are in in that interview and what that experience was like with Mark sitting there, sweating basically.
People forget the movie The Social Network was coming out, and Mark was disturbed by it…. That guy wasn’t like Mark. Mark didn’t talk that much, first of all. I wish Mark talked so much. So he was very disturbed by it, because it portrayed him in sort of this very venal, sneaky way. I liked the movie, but it was a movie, and I kept saying to him, “It’s fictional; don’t worry about it.” And I kept saying: “Show up at the movie premiere and say, ‘Hi, I’m Mark Zuckerberg; I’m this guy.’ Or stand next to him. Make fun of it.”
He wasn’t in that space. I remember him saying to me…, “It’s a movie; people will think I’m that way.” And he was worried about it. He later did go on Saturday Night Live and just realized you could take control of it, but he was worried about that movie at the time. That summer was tough on him, I think, or whenever that movie came out….
When we were thinking about talking to him [Mark], … the platform was an issue. There were [always] a bunch of privacy violations, … and that was what we wanted to talk to him about. He had done a series of interviews about this, including with his staff, [where] he had addressed it, so we felt he could handle it. It was surprising, what happened.
And what did happen?
Well, different people think different things. … He told us he had the flu. I felt like he had a panic attack, is what happened. And he started to sweat. Whatever it was, he was not well, and physically not well. It could have been the beginnings of the flu, and when we started to ask questions, he became increasingly uncomfortable.
And Walt [Mossberg] was sitting near me. I was next to him….
I’d heard that he had issues sometimes when he got nervous. I’d seen it happen before, but not to this extent. He started to sweat quite a lot, and then a lot a lot, and then a real lot, this kind of thing, where, you know, like Broadcast News, where it was dripping down, or Tom Cruise in that Mission Impossible. It was just – it was going to his chin and dripping off.
And it wasn’t stopping, and I was noticing the people in the front. I think Sheryl was there. Elliot Schrage, one of the people from Facebook, was like, “Oh, my God,” and was – I was trying to figure out what to do. Walt didn’t see the sweat as much because they were continuing to talk. And [Mark] was in such distress. I know it sounds awful, but I felt like his mother, like, “Oh, my God, this poor guy is going to faint.” I thought he was going to faint; I did. He had that white area around his lips, and I just didn’t know, and I thought, this is not going well; we have to acknowledge what’s happening here. And it wasn’t changing, so I said: “Are you hot? Do you want to take off your jacket?,” or something like that. He didn’t want to at first, and then I kind of forced the issue. I went back to it again, and he took it off, and he was dripping wet. … Inside this sweatshirt he had, which he was wearing a hoodie and his jeans and his same outfit, there was a symbol that was weird. It was some sort of Facebook gathering symbol, but it looked like the Illuminati or something, so I picked it up, and I was trying to get the attention off him, and I said, “Oh, I found the Illuminati.” I made some joke to try to stop him from being so nervous.
It took the focus off him, and then he finished the interview, which I have to say that was an astonishing thing for a young man to do in that situation. He finished the interview and gave very good answers, and then later wrote us a very cordial note about what happened. I think he didn’t like it. I can’t imagine he liked it, but he was lovely about the whole thing.
But Walt’s line of questioning and your line of questioning –
– was privacy.
And basically it was Walt expressing a discomfort.
Yeah. Walt doesn’t like that issue. Doesn’t like what Facebook did and was being firm with him, was being super – I don’t think he was rude, but I think he was pressing him really hard.
And what was it that he didn’t like?
Well, he can’t stand cookies; he can’t stand the lack of disclosure; he can’t stand lack of transparency. Walt’s always very strongly written about the topic.
And from that interview and from others, how would you have characterized Mark’s view of privacy?
Well, I, I, you know, I don’t know if he thought about that. It’s kind of interesting, because they’re very loose on it.
It seems like they have a viewpoint that this helps you as the user to get more information, and they will deliver up more – that’s the whole ethos of Silicon Valley, by the way. “If you only give us everything, we will give you free stuff.” And that’s their argument. … There is a trade being made between the user and Facebook. The question is, are they protecting that data? That’s one of my big issues. …
One of the words that Mark, in that interview with you and at the time, was throwing around was like it’s all in service of “personalization,” right?
Yeah, “personalization.” That’s their favorite word.
So what did “personalization” really mean, and what was the trade-off involved there?
You get what you want if you tell them what you’re like. I mean, it’s pretty much you go to the Safeway, and you get cat food and litter and this, [and] they know what kind of person you are. One thing people don’t realize: It’s not just personalization; it’s not just the Facebook data; it’s how they marry it with other data, and that’s what really happened here. That’s the real story at Facebook. Companies like Acxiom and others that collect all kinds of voting data, address data, shopping data, everything else – when it marries with Facebook, that’s where it’s like nitroglycerin. Who has the information, and who’s using it, and how responsible are they, and how are they protecting it, and how are they hashing it so that it’s not linked to you? Those are the questions that never – everyone is focused on the Russia stuff, but I’m more interested in that: What are they doing with this data, and how are they responsibly handling it?
Facebook’s Race For Dominance
… Before that point, in Silicon Valley, was there a war for dominance? I’d imagine that Facebook was still a smaller player.
It was. Google was the player. …
Something that’s interesting about that moment in history seems to be this centralization of the internet that was happening, right, and the centralization of power, which we’re now seeing the crazy effects of, to some degree, where you have one-stop shop and one-stop search and one-stop –
Well, that’s the problem, is it used to be just Microsoft that was sort of laying over everything, just laying over like a film essentially. Now you have six or seven of them, and that’s the problem for regulators and everybody else, is that you can’t point to Facebook and say they’re dominant, because they aren’t. They’re dominant in social media. Amazon’s dominant in commerce. Google is dominant in search and some devices. Apple’s dominant in – so it’s hard to – they’re all powerful, and they all have control, and they all press down startups and innovation and everything else. But there’s too many of them.
But at the time, tell me about the race for dominance that Mark was a part of.
Yeah, definitely. Google had a big target on Facebook. They were worried about it, and it was also pulling staff away. A lot of Google people went over there, including Sheryl. So that was an issue, the race for talent in Silicon Valley, and Facebook was the hot company of the moment, just like it happens all the time. It sucked a lot of energy into it – money, energy, attention and freshness. Mark was fresh compared to [Google co-founders] Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin], so there was a lot of competition, and he definitely faced a lot of firepower brought on by Google again. It was primarily Google that was doing the fighting going on between them.
And who was Mark listening to at the time? Was it [PayPal’s] Peter Thiel or [Netscape’s] Marc Andreessen? Give me a scope of who he’s listening to.
He’s had a lot of advisers over the years. One thing about Mark is, he does play well with others. A lot of these CEOs don’t, and he certainly does. I think Sheryl was critically important. He has a team around that’s been around him for a long time. Chris Cox, certainly Marc Andreessen was an adviser that was important. Thiel, I don’t know. I can’t tell. I’m not sure. In the early days, certainly. Later, perhaps not. But he was around. He was certainly around.
Oddly enough, Don Graham was someone he had a lot of great regard for, the owner of The Washington Post at the time, who was on the board of Facebook. Early on, Jim Breyer [of Accel Partners] was a very strong – he was a venture capitalist. It changed over time. But he’s kept a core of people around him. That staff has been together for a very long time.
When was the first time you started hearing about disruption or this concept of disruption? I know that it’s hackneyed at this point, but “Move Fast and Break Things” and that whole thing – when was that kind of coming into the fore?
Well, disruptors were around long before Facebook. I mean, that was all of them – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates. This was around for a long time. That was the idea, that to create you had to destroy. And that was the concept behind … all the early companies, that you were moving other companies out of the way. Silicon Valley is the only place where the young eats its old. That’s always been an ethos of Silicon Valley….
But Mark really amped it up with “Move Fast and Break Things,” which he put on the walls. He was into all those posters. It felt a little like [the] Soviet Union to me. I remember being like, “Mm, I’ve seen this before in Mother Russia.” But it was super culty, I thought.
The Facebook Culture
And on that culty thing, what’s the deal with the mission? … I mean, “Making the world more open and connected,” all of these slogans, these missions.
They love the slogans.
What’s the deal with that?
I don’t know. … It’s weird. They like to do it. Apparently it makes their employees feel better. I mean, “Move Fast and Break Things” was the most famous one, and I would always make a joke, like, “You broke enough things. Stop moving; start fixing,” you know what I mean? I would make jokes when I’d see them. But every company – Pinterest had a bunch. They all do. Every one of them has those things. They copied Mark in that regard. He likes art. He had artwork on the wall. He had graffiti artists on the walls, so that was part of Facebook’s ethos, but in order to create a cult, like a cult of Facebook or a cult of Google. Google was less so like that, although they had their own little things, the food and the colorful bicycles and things like that. But Mark really took it to a new level, this idea. It was to create the cult of Facebook, the loyalty of Facebook.
And what about the idea of doing something good in the world or that this is actually good for society?
Yeah, that’s also not new. I wrote a piece at The Wall Street Journal in the ’90s talking about this idea, that … you don’t see a cigarette manufacturer or a person who makes donuts going “I’m making good for the world by making donuts.” You’d want to just slap them if they did that. And here they do that all the time. Again, Facebook took it to a new level in that it was, “We have saved [the] Arab Spring.” They took credit for that stuff, but then when it came to the troubles in the Philippines or Indonesia or wherever, or here in this country: “We had no idea what happened; we had no impact.” If you want credit for that, you take responsibility for this.
The Arab Spring
Bringing up the Arab Spring, there’s something interesting that happens there. Here is this reifying moment. Did it feel that way at the time?
Not to me. I mean, it’s like giving the fax machine credit for what happened in China, Tiananmen Square. Come on. It was the people there. It was the human beings who stood up to tyranny. That’s what made the difference. They happened to use a fax machine, and that’s a tool, but it wasn’t Facebook that did that. It was the people on the ground, and they used Facebook as the latest tool. And by the way, it was a really powerful tool.
What about media treatment? I kind of see, [with] Arab Spring and afterward, almost a free pass in the media except for a few voices. Can you talk a little bit about those days and what happened afterward in terms of how the media treated Facebook and Mark?
Steve Jobs started that, the idea of these people as gods or the answer givers. … It kind of makes sense. Religion has fallen for a lot of people. Answers are needed. These people provide answers. Tech is almost a religion. Mark was the latest one. So he became deified in that way. He had all the answers. They were fixing the world; they were going to bring everyone together. It was like a giant Coca-Cola commercial. … So that wasn’t true. There are going to be faultlines everywhere. These tools could be used for good; they could be used for bad, because people, human beings, are what they are, and they have both sides.
I’ll never forget when I saw Facebook Live. That was relatively recently, and I was in a meeting with some of the product people, and they were like, “It’s going to do this, this and this.” They were all like, “Oh, it’s so good.” And I was like, “What are you doing when someone kills someone?” And they’re like, “What?” They kind of had an attitude. “Suicide and bullying.” I was like, “What about this, this, this and this?,” and they were just sort of like, “Well, you’re so negative like that,” like, “Uh-uh, Kara.” And I’m like, “I’m not negative; I’m realistic.” They don’t think like that. They don’t think that maybe their tools could be used for not-so-good things. It’s priority number 14, and it’s because it’s designed primarily by white guys who are very rich. I don’t know.
Why do you think we get so many delivery things? Why do you think we get so many wash-your-clothes [things]? Why do we get so many things to ease your life? Why is there not so much stuff around social justice? It just is really interesting what gets made, and it gets made because these are the people making it.
News Coverage Of Facebook
From your vantage point, having been a reporter, what did you think of the coverage that Facebook was … getting in those early years? Because you’re asking some tough questions. What was everyone else doing?
Some of it was tough. There [was] some really good reporting on what was going on at Facebook. It wasn’t everybody, but a lot of the TV stuff was like, “Let’s walk with this little billionaire in a sweatshirt,” like, “Oh, look, he wears Adidas,” like that was on and on about his clothes. Like OK, who cares what he’s wearing? But that was a big deal they focused on. … And then, “Sheryl Sandberg is the adult in the room,” and I kept going, “He’s an adult.” I’m pretty sure after 21, you’re an adult. That’s my guess. Everyone has these narratives around these things. He was perfect for it. He’s perfect for it.
Was there something frustrating about [the] “they can do no wrong” aspect of things?
Yes. It’s always been frustrating in Silicon Valley, this idea. But they do, did that with Jobs. I think we could all be accused of doing that. But some of the products were so amazing, it was hard not to be delighted. One of the things that’s hard in Silicon Valley is look, the stuff they’re creating is world-changing. Some of it – not all of it, but some of it – is really significant, and you don’t want to be the person on the beach in Kitty Hawk going, “OK, that plane got up, but the wingspan is just too long.” You don’t want to be that person, because you’re forgetting the fact that they’re flying this thing. So you do have to be sort of amazed by what’s happening. Look at even Netflix. It’s astonishing how it’s changed the entertainment industry, and that’s just an entertainment thing.
But when you see some of these things, you’re just astonished. And I’ve always been enamored with the cell phones. I love them forever. And the thing is, how do you separate that from good criticism of those creations and the obscene amount of wealth these people make making them and what that does to them and their responsibility and who is monitoring them? The fact of the matter is nobody is monitoring them, because the U.S. government has completely abrogated its responsibility when it comes to Google and Facebook and all these companies. The last time they did anything was Microsoft, right, or AT&T before that. They eventually get around to it, but they haven’t. The only one you see is say [European Commissioner for Competition] Margrethe Vestager in Europe, who is saying the right things. Even though she gets criticized, she says a lot of things I agree with.
Regulating Big Data
Parse that out a little bit. In terms of early things the [Federal Trade Commission] did, do you remember that?
Yes. Yeah, the FTC tried. They tried, but they don’t complete it. You don’t get an A for effort when you’re not regulating these companies. They always seemed to back off, and I get why they do, because American innovation is really something that needs to be protected, and for the most part, the tech companies have been given a pass on every aspect of regulation. They are not regulated the way broadcast networks are or certain media or telephone companies or cigarette companies or Wall Street.
Nobody likes regulation, but they don’t get any. There’s none for the tech industry, and this is the most important industry in our history. It should have thoughtful people thinking up thoughtful regulations. Believe me, I think government overregulates almost always, but I think they’re like nation-states, so they really do need some guardrails around them.
What has their strategy been? … What was their strategy when it came to Washington and to avoiding regulation?
They were smart from early on. Google was not quite as up to speed. They did later. Microsoft was the worst. At one time, Bill Gates bragged to me when I was at The Washington Post he didn’t have any lobbyists. And maybe he had one. That was a mistake. This is a city full of ex-student body vice presidents with subpoena power. … I think tech got smart really fast, and Facebook, certainly, was just good, especially because of Sheryl Sandberg. Sheryl worked in Washington, worked for the Treasury Department for [Secretary] Larry Summers [1999–2001], did understand the importance of image and importance of Washington.
Is there anything specifically strategically that you’ve noticed that they did in order to avoid regulation and avoid scrutiny?
Well, again, they hired Elliot Schrage, Sheryl Sandberg. These people had a lot of experience here. All the tech, they’re like, “Oh, we don’t care about Washington,” but they do. That’s a lie that they tell themselves. They do understand the power, the potential power. But I think they hired the right people. They hired good people. They’re engaged with people. They try to soft-pedal things, I think, just like anybody else. They try to avoid bringing anybody here or … keeping their head down, as I think [of it]. Mark’s performance before Congress recently was perfect. It was so interesting. I was like, he did such a good job. I mean, I’m like, he did a terrible job. They were just awful. I mean, he wasn’t good. They were awful, so he hardly said anything.
He was not illuminating. Several things he said were just “We do not sell your data.” That was my favorite. Well, not technically, but yes, he does. Let me explain to you what he does. He actually takes the data, mashes it up, squishes it with Acxiom stuff, and then it’s even worse. But they don’t technically sell it to Procter & Gamble or blank or blank or blank. He kept saying that a hundred times, and all the congressmen were like, “Oh, yes, oh, thank you.” And I was like, “Ugh.” The next question is, “OK, what do you do with that data?,” or “You kind of sell it, don’t you?,” or “How do you make money from it?” He just kept repeating the same lines over and over again, many of which were just, I don’t know. They weren’t lies. They just were not illuminating in any way.
Was the FTC thing a big deal at the time?
Yes, it was. It was a chance for the government to step in and put some guardrails in, and they blew it.
How did they blow it?
I think they didn’t keep up with the changes that were happening, and the Obama administration was friendly to tech. Let’s be clear. This was a friendly administration to tech, and they didn’t keep following all the changes that were happening and the power that these companies were amassing. It was a good thing to do at the time. … But it wasn’t ongoing on lots of things. Same thing with Google. They didn’t follow the Google search thing. They didn’t follow up on the complaints by Yelp and others. This stuff changes really fast, and now with AI they’re certainly not monitoring that in any way. They don’t even understand it. How could they regulate it?
How were you seeing the Obama administration at the time?
Very friendly to tech. Very. Are you kidding? [Executive Chairman of Google and later Alphabet Inc.] Eric Schmidt is in the White House hanging out. They were close. All of them, all of them were very close. There were a lot of donations. They donated a lot to Obama – didn’t donate as much to Hillary, which was interesting. Certainly pulled back from Hillary. But they were close. He was the tech president, remember. He had a phone; he tweeted, whatever, although it turns out Donald Trump is a really good tweeter comparatively….
Facebook And Privacy
You were raising privacy concerns from very early on. Why didn’t privacy concerns really gain that much traction, in your opinion?
I think people don’t care. I do. I do. I had Antonio García Martínez on recently, and I have to finally agree with him that people continue to give up this information. It’s a very difficult topic to understand for people, for consumers. Whether it’s Equifax or whatever, people have a hard time understanding it. They make it hard to understand what information they have. It’s not transparent in any way. You like the services. They’re kind of good. So what if they have my phone number? I don’t think people can put it together how tracked they are, so I think that’s what makes it harder. I think part of them, they don’t care. It’s not like Europe where they do; the cultures are much different. But here, the regulators don’t care; people don’t care. The trade they make is something they’re satisfied with. I’m not sure.
Do you think that people recognize that by relinquishing your privacy, you’re opening yourself up to manipulation?
No, I don’t think people realize it. What’s happened at the same time is they have all this information on you, but they’re also hitting you with so much information. Like it’s a flood; it’s a tsunami of information, and you can’t keep up. It’s coming at you at all times. How can you make any kind of decisions on what it is and whether it’s good or not?
We also have lost – news literacy has gone down to the base. … You have these forces of complete weaponization of social media, too much information, confusion over what they have, and it just creates a person who just, … you know, click like, click like. It just does. It creates a real problem and lack of media literacy. I think it’s probably at an all-time low….
… So Sheryl, what did she bring to the table?
Well, Sheryl’s a really interesting character. Her persona is highly competent, buttoned-down business lady. She is all those things. And what she brought to the table was … professionalization. People don’t remember, but before Sheryl got there, there was a series of COOs, of CFOs. It was a rotating cast of characters there running the company, and some of them – well, some of them not, but all of them ended up getting fired in some fashion or leaving. It was somewhat chaotic, and she brought a lot of order to that company. They called it “adult supervision.” I’m not sure I would use that term, but the idea in Silicon Valley is that she was the adult in the room. She had done very well at Google running AdSense and whichever one it was called [AdWords]. She had a very long tenure at Google doing a great job at what she did, so she brought systems in place to the company.
What about the advent of their business model? One of the weird things about the Facebook story is that they don’t seem to know what they are in some ways, right? But at some point, they’d just become an ad company.
Yeah, I think they were always an ad company. I think that was always the aim. I don’t recall it being different than that. … They thought about it a little bit, subscription, but not really. Of course they would think about it. But Sheryl really had the advertising background, and one of the things was, she took off the plate of Mark the things he didn’t like. He loves product and was not – I don’t even think he knows how the ad system works. If you had to really quiz him, I bet I know more about the ad system than he does. But he definitely didn’t like that part of the business and wasn’t interested in it, and she is interested, and she brought in really highly competent people, a lot of people from Google. …
Facebook’s Business Model
But in terms of building up a surveillance and targeting infrastructure, … was that part of her – ?
Well, I think interestingly, it’s Mark who knows the product and her who knows the advertising. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, because I’m not so sure she was quite as aware of how much data they were – you know what I mean, like understanding the data collection the way it was happening. But they needed to sell advertisers on the efficacy of the system that you’re reaching people. And listen, they’ve tried a million things. There was a lot. There were tons and tons of things that didn’t work. But they’ve tried to get to the place where we are collecting an audience and we’re going to target them for you and get you results, whatever they happen to be. That’s a great advertising system.
But it is that advertising system that’s ended up being so –
Controversial. Yes. Think about if a TV network started talking to you in the commercial like, “Hey, John, I know you liked that pizza the other day, and by the way, here’s another one.” You’d be freaked out, right? If they misused data like that, it would be really problematic, I think, for you. I think it’s so underhanded that it’s hard to see what’s happening to you. …
Do you think that the business model is at the heart of what is problematic about Facebook?
I don’t know. I think if it was more transparent and people could opt in more – I mean, there’s all these opt-in, opt-out things. It’s exhausting. It’s so complicated that I think if they were more transparent, for sure it would be a better system. “We’re doing this; you’re going to get this; we’re taking your voting data,” telling people over and over again. They can’t tell people too many times. They don’t want to do that. They can’t be doing that. They can’t have too many clicks; they can’t make it too hard to get to something.
… But you can make it better. There’s lots of ways. Some of their new things I think are great: the deletion of browsing, the ability to download your data. This stuff should have been at the beginning; they shouldn’t have been forced to do it, and that’s essentially what they were.
There’s this period in the 2016 election. What are you seeing at that point in time? This is kind of where Roger McNamee says, “Oh, I wrote this email to Mark and Sheryl, and I’m seeing X, Y and Z.” But what were you seeing in that period of time, and what was your communication like, if any?
I wasn’t paying attention to the politics, but I’ll tell you what. They had a very small bunch of money they made from politics in 2012, but they were projecting 2016 to be enormous. What they didn’t do was prepare for it, and they didn’t pay attention to it. And they had the capability of doing so – let’s be clear. They knew how to handle cigarette ads. They know how to handle all controversial ads or possibilities of abuse. They have that stuff locked down. If they were projecting these numbers to go up so high in the 2016 election, they should have brought the staff to bear to making sure political ads were properly vetted, and they absolutely dropped the ball. I don’t know why. I don’t know why. They just didn’t staff up. They didn’t pay attention. But they were fully capable of doing so. …
Facebook’s Response To The 2016 Election
So what you’re basically saying is that they had the capacity to know a lot more during the 2016 election.
They had a capacity to pay attention. They do it elsewhere, when they have other problematic areas. You know, cigarettes or whatever, whatever they are, there’s all kinds of areas that they know are controversial, and they certainly deal with those pretty strongly, and they’re able to shut them down. This is very similar, and they knew politics was going to be a big area of spend[ing] by the candidates. They knew it. They knew it was going to be bigger. Maybe in 2012 it wasn’t as big, but they were certainly aware that it was going to be big in . They weren’t prepared for it.
What was it like when you started to see how Facebook was responding to the revelations?
… When we’re going into the  elections, when the revelations happened, they did exactly what they always do. They slow-rolled it. Mark, originally, … he gave an interview where he said there’s been no impact.
… Of course they had an impact. It’s obvious. They were the most important distribution, news distribution. There’s so many statistics about that. Secondly, then he sent out a release a couple weeks later, or maybe the next week. Well, it was 0.1; he had some figure in some letter. [Editor’s Note: In a status update on Nov. 12, 2016, Zuckerberg said, “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic.”] And I was like: “How did he come up [with that]? This is really your answer?” I remember I was writing back to the PR people going: “You’re kidding, right? … Where did you come up with this number? How do you know it wasn’t? Have you done any investigations?” It was just slow-rolling. They weren’t lies; they just weren’t truth. They obviously hadn’t done enough investigation to find out. And then they were silent.
Then they did another one, and then he did his long, 6,000-word essay where he said – Facebook’s thing is the slow roll. They love it. They do it all the time on everything they do. It’s never clear from the beginning. … Facebook slow-rolls everything. I remember calling all these executives saying, “You’ve got a problem here; you’ve got a problem; you’ve got a problem.” They were irritated by me and others. It’s not just me; it’s others.
Mark wrote the essay, and I remember talking to him about it, and he’s like, “What do you think?” I’m like, “Well, you didn’t have an editor, but 6,000 words is a lot to say, but it was full of stuff.” And you could see him agonizing in it, and you could see him sort of going through, but it was certainly very different from the initial reaction, which was “We had no impact.” He sort of acknowledged impact and then suddenly, “OK, maybe it was more.” Maybe it was just a lack of investigation, of understanding how their platform – what happened.
So it made me think, they don’t know. They don’t know what happened. And that worried me. They don’t have control of this platform they built, or they don’t have an idea of what’s going on on it, or someone’s not paying attention, and maybe they’re not such good managers. Maybe they’re a little chaotic compared to the way they put themselves out in public. Any of these answers are bad. Either they’re malevolent, and they did it on purpose, which is not true. They are incompetent, and they don’t know how to run this platform, which is also not true. Or they just weren’t paying attention, or they weren’t doing it right, and they thought they were. Then when it turned out they didn’t know, they weren’t as open as they could have been.
There were a lot of people along the way, yourself included, who were saying, “Your platform can be gamed; your platform could be problematic in all sorts of ways.” I don’t see how this could have come as a major surprise to them.
Well, they were busy doing other things. I don’t know. I agree with you. I think they made the platform; they had responsibility for it. But it’s a very typical Facebook reaction. They did it on Beacon. They do it all the time. It just gets more meaningful when it becomes more serious. I mean, that’s what’s happened, that the stakes are much higher.
But what [does] the slow roll mean? What does that reveal?
I don’t know. I don’t know why we put up with it so much. That’s the thing. It reveals people who are compromised, who are continually compromised compared to other companies. …
Congress And Facebook
One of the things, going into the hearings, is for you this question of maturity.
It even comes up in the hearings, the congresspeople saying, “You started this in your dorm room.” Mark alludes to his dorm-room thing.
Yeah. It’s the myth that these are kids just putting on a show. “Oh, and we became billionaires along the way.” Yeah. It was interesting because I was the one with Walt that made him sweat. So all the media coverage, which I think is part of it, was like, can he not sweat? Will he be able to speak, to string two words together? That was the narrative going into the hearings, so therefore it set the bar very low for him. It’s sort of like when Donald Trump did the debates: If he doesn’t vomit on the stage, it’s a success; it’s a roaring success. With Mark, it was if he can string two words together and not sweat, it’s a success.
Since I was the one who made him sweat along with Walt, guess what? I didn’t make him sweat. He sweat himself. But guess what? He’s an adult. He’s 33 or 34, whatever he is. He has two children. He’s a billionaire. He has a foundation. He runs a company. If he can’t answer these questions, he shouldn’t be the head of Facebook.
I mean, that’s how far we’ve gotten from reality, is that we think, we juvenilize him and the men of Silicon Valley, that “Oh, no, these boys made a mess.” They’re not boys. They’re men, and they’ve made mistakes they need to rectify, and some of these are significant mistakes. …
Facebook In The 2016 Election
… When the Russia revelation comes out, it was a slow roll, but kind of bring me through that slow roll.
Russia. Well, interestingly, the Russia stuff to me wasn’t as interesting as the data that they put together for … the Trump and the Clinton people, the amount of money. Those people spent $100 million on that platform. That’s a lot of money.
The Russia stuff was relatively small. From the advertising point of view, I don’t know if the advertising was more disturbing because it was small. It’s a big system. It’s a trillion dollars. It’s so much money and data going through there.
I think the fake news stuff was really interesting. Their inability to control that was much more important. And I don’t think they understood. I think they got caught. They weren’t running their systems in a way that they could – they were not paying attention. That’s the kindest thing you could say, is they were not paying attention.
They were not paying attention to what?
To the news that was coming through. All this fake news that was being traded, they weren’t monitoring; they weren’t throwing it off their system; they weren’t blocking it. In a lot of ways, Google has a much easier responsibility, because they can just take it off. You don’t know what they did. Facebook has a promise with its users [that] they can post anything. That’s a big promise to make. If you’re a city, you can do anything in the city. Well, then anyone will do anything. Instead of saying, “No, you can’t kill each other; you can’t do trash; you can’t do this,” they didn’t have rules in place for that kind of stuff, or they didn’t monitor those things enough. So if you give everybody permission to do whatever, they’re going to do whatever, and that’s what happened. And the Russians took perfect advantage of it. And by the way, they didn’t hack it. Everyone talks about “Russia hacking.” It wasn’t hacked; they used the system as it was built. It had no guardrails in place to stop what the Russians did, or whoever, any malevolent player.
You really think that it’s plausible that they just weren’t paying attention?
And you don’t think that’s letting them off too easily?
No, not after it started. Eighteen months ago I started yelling at them, saying, “Something is wrong here; you need to pay attention.” I think since they – at the time –
Go back for second to 18 months ago. [That] was when?
Right after the election, when this stuff started to surface. I know I called them a bunch of times, all of them, and started haranguing them about it. I know a lot of people did, and they should have. The Guardian did some great coverage. Everyone was starting to pay attention to what happened, that time they should have known, and they should have done something and shut it down and really begun to accelerate the investigations of what happened. Before that I’d like to know what happened and why they weren’t paying attention to it, why they weren’t monitoring political ads, why they weren’t monitoring news sources, why they weren’t – I’m less concerned with the ads than anything else, because it was a small amount. But I am concerned about the monitoring of the system and the signals that went into place and the ability of malevolent players to manipulate the system.
And have you received any answers that are satisfying?
Not that I find adequate, no.
What’s that about?
Did anyone in Congress ask them? They were all concerned with the Terms of Service. “I don’t like your Terms of Service.” Oh, God, as if that’s what our society – that’s what the biggest problem at Facebook is. They have legalese in their Terms of Service.
But with the ads thing, the Russian ad thing I mean, they come out, and they say initially, “Oh, there weren’t Russian – ”
There weren’t enough; there weren’t that many. Actually, when they came out with the first one, I called someone there – I’m not going to say who it was; it was someone high up – and I said: “You need to stop saying numbers, because it’s like a cockroach. There’s going to be – don’t say there’s 10; there’s going to be thousands kind of stuff. So stop. Stop until you know. Say, ‘We don’t know yet, and we’re investigating it.’ Be honest and forthright, but don’t give us a number, because you’re going to end up looking like a liar.” “Oh, we know, we know.” I’m like, “No, no, stop doing this, because it’s going to make me think you’re a liar at some point.”
They look like they were a liar at some point. I don’t think they were liars. I just think they didn’t do the investigation. It’s an enormous system. I’m going to give them one out. It’s an enormous amount of data. On YouTube, on Google, this is enormous amounts of data. But I do feel like at least YouTube acknowledged it. I mean, that’s the thing. It’s just a question of how forthright you’re going to be throughout the process.
Just to finish your thought there, which was basically about the idea of it’s such a huge system, and there’s – you’re going to give them –
It’s an enormous platform. The Facebook platform is so big. You don’t even understand how many transactions are going out. It’s an enormous platform to keep control of or try to keep control of. So that is the one thing that you have to keep in mind.
Right. But did they have enough people? Did they have enough systems?
That’s the question. They took humans out of the system. They’re trying to rely on AI. Maybe it costs more to run Facebook. Maybe their numbers are pretty good, because they don’t have enough people running it. That’s the kind of thing you have to think about, maybe not that they’re cutting corners, but maybe that this business is not quite as good as we think it is. That’s the kind of things they don’t want to face, that maybe they need more human intervention, maybe they need – who knows what it is, but it may be that they didn’t have enough people, for sure.
So the significance of the Russia revelations then to you was the loss of control?
I think they didn’t have control of the system. They didn’t have control of the platform. They didn’t have control of their business. They were not paying attention to key parts of it that pop up. And, look, again, this is a complicated business, but I don’t care; it’s their business. It’s sort of like worrying about carmakers. Whatever caused an accident, I don’t care. They made it, and they put it out, and therefore they’re responsible for it. I don’t care if it’s hard, and they tend to say in Silicon Valley that something’s real hard when it’s a mess-up, but when they’re doing well, it’s like, “We’re geniuses.” If it’s real hard, then stop doing it and spare us the pain.
I think if you put out a product that’s that complicated, you should be paying attention to its implications everywhere. I do that in my job. We try to do that. I think anyone who’s making something and benefiting so amazingly from it – obscenely, almost, to some people’s mind – they should be responsible for it. I’ve said this a number of times. It’s in Spiderman, but it is actually from Voltaire: With great power comes great responsibility. They’ve got the great power part down, but where’s the great responsibility part? And that I think is critical, going forward.
Mark says in his testimony to Congress, as one of his opening lines, “We’re going to start taking – ”
“We have a broader responsibility.” OK, what does that mean? … Did you not realize it before? Because you had it before. “Now we realize we have a broader responsibility,” which translates to me as: “This is harder than it seems. This is harder than we thought it would be.” And that’s – I’m sorry. An American election got screwed up in some way that you played a part in. I’m not sure what it was. We’re never going to be able to unpack it. We’re never going to be able to figure it out. It’s gone now. But it definitely – we all know something happened here that wasn’t correct.
I was on stage at DLD [Digital-Life-Design conference] in Germany in 2017. It’s got to be January of 2017. It was an event in Germany, and I think I was interviewing [then-Facebook Vice President of Partnerships] Dan Rose, who is one of the top executives there, and we got into it about this, on stage and then later at a restaurant. And I’ll never forget he said, “Don’t be hysterical,” which was interesting. I’m like, “I’m going to be hysterical because I think something bad – I don’t know what it is, but I have this feeling that your system was misused by someone….”
I know everybody wanted to blame someone for the Trump election – people who were not for Trump – but that doesn’t mean that maybe something didn’t happen and maybe they weren’t right. You can be emotional and feel bad about it and try to look for blame, but the fact of the matter is the Facebook platform was misused aggressively by the Russians and others. And why did that happen is something we need an answer to. How did it happen? What are you going to do to stop it? What changes are you making? What protections are you putting in place? I think that’s a completely not hysterical thing to ask the top executives of Facebook. …
Is there a larger problem here of just the fact that they are the social media platform for the world?
Yeah, I think there is a problem. I think the question is, should one company have this much control over something that’s very important? Now, what happens is things change. People may not be on Facebook in 10 years – probably won’t. So that’s good. That’s the way innovation happens. You know, it changes. We used to be scared of AOL. Who is scared of AOL today? Who’s scared of Microsoft today? So that happens. And AT&T – who’s scared of AT&T anymore? But we were, and justifiably so. You wonder what will happen to the company if it can continue and innovate. But he is, you know, Instagram – he’s essentially putting Snapchat out of business by copying most of Snapchat’s things. Well, is that a good thing for our society? It’s not a good thing for Snapchat, for sure. But boy, are they copying this stuff? It’s not illegal, but is it right? … It’s competition. I get it. People compete. Instagram is great. But you can just watch it in real time. They’re killing another company by using the ideas that were not originally their own.
That might be, again, legal, but it’s not right. That sure isn’t right. They’re getting into VR; they’re getting into this; they’re getting into all of these companies. What could they extend themselves into, and who is monitoring them, and are they monitoring their systems enough?
Who is monitoring them?
Nobody. Me? Not me. I mean, I don’t have the capabilities to monitor them properly. I don’t know. Should they be monitored? What should they be monitored? How? These are things that thoughtful regulators and politicians should be thinking about, and what they’re doing is anything but serious stuff. They’re arguing over – it’s insane what’s going on right now.
Do you think Facebook is a monopoly?
No. There’s too much – it’s a monopoly in social media, I guess. Yeah, I guess in social media, but is that a [monopoly]? What is that? Because they could point to a lot of competitors. They certainly could. But I’m not a legal person, I don’t know. I think a lot of people have called for the breakup of companies like Google and Facebook for sure, and that’s an interesting thing. It’s an interesting new twist for them to deal with. I don’t know. …
Going back in time, were there moments where you were calling them out on a lack of transparency?
All the time. We all do. We all have done that for years. It just didn’t matter until now, because now there’s been some damage that everybody can see very clearly. Now, there’s been some abuses that are clear to point to like the Cambridge Analytica thing. Now finally there’s a cost, right? There’s a cost now, and maybe it will stick. I don’t know. I think probably it will go away. I think they’ll go back to business and maybe … be a little bit more intelligent about these things. But it’s not in the interests of their business to shut down data collection, I’ll tell you that. Their business is predicated on it; their market value is predicated on it, unless they find another business. …
Are there moments in the past that you remember a sense of frustration, being in your position, where you could ask the tough questions of these people, of Mark, of Sheryl, and feeling as though you just were getting a runaround?
I think the issue is, at some point you want to stop being the scold and stop being the bearer of bad tidings and stuff. … I think what happened in Silicon Valley is you have admiration for their growth; you have admiration for what they’ve created. You have admiration for the products; some of the products are pretty good. If you start to criticize some of the key parts, it gets exhausting after a while, I think, for lots of media. …
And the question is, can Facebook really start to put executives into place? Can they shake up the executive ranks? They’ve been there for far too long to bring in people that don’t agree with them and [to] pay the price, which means their business might suffer. Maybe they’re not going to grow to the moon the way they’ve been doing, and maybe they might need to accept that. They don’t want to accept that for sure. …
Speaking of growth, I keep forgetting the term – “terminal” – not “terminal velocity.”
The Facebook IPO
Yeah. Where did you put the point in time where [Facebook’s] growth is just exponential and where this lack of control might be traced back to?
I think they had a tough IPO. That was a tough period, but right after the IPO, when they started really growing and hitting on all cylinders, they were doing it for years. They grew like crazy for a long time. But I think the IPO was tough for them, and they had a lot of problems originally around the IPO, but after that they seemed to have done a lot of things right, and Wall Street had a lot of admiration for them. That’s where they really took off, and they showed some real interesting ways of doing advertising. They got their hands around some of their advertising businesses. They split the digital advertising pie up with Google. So it was the two of them, and that’s it. And they stopped fighting with Google. That sure helped. That sure helped.
One of the things that we’ve been told is there was an emphasis on not hiring too many people, like Wall Street doesn’t like too many people.
Yeah, their business is better with fewer people, and lesser cost, for sure. They make more money. Again, maybe it costs more. The same thing at YouTube. I was talking to Susan Wojcicki who runs YouTube, and she was saying, “We’re hiring 10,000 people to monitor these videos.” I’m like: “Try a million. You’ve got trillions of hours. This is going to cost you people some money, and that’s going to affect your business.” And guess what? The news business is expensive. That’s why newspapers are in trouble. It’s lots of reasons, lots of secular reasons. One [is] it’s expensive to put together news; it’s expensive to monitor things; it’s expensive to get it right. So it’s going to get more expensive for them for sure.
Why did Facebook basically get into the news business?
Well, is it in the news business? They don’t think they are. They just distribute news, right? I think they’re in the news business. What they pick and choose matters a great deal. They spent a lot of time cultivating publishers, almost to no effect, because they couldn’t think of a monetization plan for them. They are certainly in the news distribution business, and I think they’re in the news business.
When you were observing this at the time – this is like 2013 or so – was it a deliberate move toward distributing more news?
No, it just was part of it. They don’t care what they’re distributing. They don’t care if it’s a video of the Chewbacca Mom. They don’t care if it’s a news article from The New York Times. They’d rather have the news article from The New York Times. It’s a better News Feed. But if you could see all that crap that flows over the system, they don’t care. And to my mind, actually it’s bad for their business to not be more curating. Snapchat curates, by the way. There’s no mess on that system, because they curate what’s on that system. Facebook lets anything go, essentially. To me, it’s like creating this beautiful suburb or beautiful community, and then broken glass everywhere. It hurts their business to not monitor those News Feeds … and let all that crap flow over it. …
Facebook’s Response To The 2016 Election
How could they not have noticed in the lead-up to the 2016 election or around the 2016 election that essentially Facebook had become polluted? It had been a place with fake news. There was plenty of knowledge about fake news going around and hoaxes. We didn’t necessarily know about the Russians then, but –
Right, but it was clear. No, it was clear. I remember, I think I told this story when I interviewed Hillary Clinton. There was a story on there about her being a lizard. Just – she was a lizard, OK? She was a lizard. And I was like, “I’m pretty certain she’s not a lizard.” I met her. She is doing an excellent job hiding her lizard nature. … And I mentioned it. I’m like, “Get this down.” I think I texted one of them, one of the newspeople. I’m like: “This is a fake news article. She’s not a lizard.” And I was just amazed. It had like, seven – it had some number that I was like: “Are you kidding me? This has gone round the block here so many times, and nobody said, ‘Take it down’?” And I was sort of like – I was amazed by the Lizard Hillary.
And what were [you] hearing back from someone at Facebook?
“Oh, ha ha.” I was like: “No, it’s not funny. She’s not a lizard. Like, she’s not. Stop it. Stop this bulls—.” It was really kind of – it was amazing that I could find something just like that. It was easy to find all kinds of crap. I happen to have some relatives who like to trade that stuff. But a lot of people, maybe they don’t see it or they don’t encounter it because it’s not in their feed, but if you looked, pretty easily you could see problems there and lots of things. I saw that Jesus versus Satan thing. I remember that. That came over my feed in an ad. I was like: “Who put this here? Where’s it from?” …
I know, but you can’t say that they weren’t paying attention.
Well, I told them about the lizard. I don’t know. I was paying attention. Yeah, I can’t say that; I don’t know. You need to ask them. Who is paying attention? Why were they not paying attention to what was happening on that system? And their only excuse, again, is that it’s really a lot. Again, I don’t care. They built it; they need to keep it clean, keep it in shape. Or again, you get to a situation with Twitter, where abuse happens, and it doesn’t get monitored properly or they can’t shut it down. They built the system. They need to monitor the system, or they need to change the system drastically, which I think would change their business model.
…I think probably the most disturbing one to me is when he [Zuckerberg] said we had no impact on the election.
I remember reading that and being furious. I was like: “Are you kidding me? Like, stop it. You cannot say that and not be lying.” Like, “I don’t know how you could possibly make that claim in public and with such a cavalier attitude.” That infuriated me. And I texted everybody there saying, “You’re kidding me.”
What did you hear in response?
They soon responded that it was the 1 percent, and then it just went on and on. They knew that was a mistake from the beginning, but that he would utter it was sort of shocking. It was shocking for Mark. I think Mark’s a very thoughtful young man, so I was sort of like, if I had been sitting there in an interview when he did that, I would have said, “You’re lying.” I would have said, “That is a lie, and I don’t know if you’re lying to yourself or what, but you need to not say something like that in the position you’re in without knowing that’s the truth.” That bothered me a great deal.
Is he not recognizing the importance of his platform in our democracy at that point in time?
Yes. I think he didn’t understand what he had built or didn’t care to understand or wasn’t paying attention and doesn’t – they really do want to pretend, as they’re getting on their private planes, as they’re going to their beautiful homes, as they’re collecting billions of dollars. … They have to pay attention if that’s what they are doing, or else they need to get out and let someone else run it. That seems to me to be what they need to do: They need to take responsibility. I think they know it.
I’ll tell you what really drives me crazy is the victimization thing. All the stuff on Twitter from [Facebook’s Vice President of Augmented and Virtual Reality ] Andrew Bosworth and the rest of them is like, “Feel for me.” Like, “We feel badly.” At one point some of them were saying, “We feel badly,” or “We know,” or “We feel badly.” I think I was at some event where I actually went and spoke in front of Facebook – it was some gay and lesbian Facebook association thing – and one of them came in and said, “Well, we feel badly.” I said: “I don’t care how you feel. How you feel doesn’t matter to me even slightly because you’re running this show.” And the immediate feeling of that, it reminds me of the #MeToo [movement], when guys go, “Well, I feel badly about this,” or “It’s not me; I’m a good guy.” I don’t care if you’re – you’re not the point. Please remove yourself from the discussion, because you’re not really – let’s stop focusing on you. Or “It’s gone too far” or whatever. It’s the same thing. It’s this victimization feeling, that they tried their hardest, and don’t be mad at them, or it’s time not to be mad; let’s move on. I think not moving on is a really good thing with this group of people. I think we need to stay right here until they fix it, and that’s what I would like to see them do.
I will stress I like Mark. I think he really does mean well. That doesn’t matter. What matters is not words, … not this testimony where he says nothing. It matters in actions of what he’s going to do now. That’s going to be the real acid test. And if he doesn’t succeed in that, that’s going to be a real problem.
In everything that you’re saying, it seems from day one they haven’t wanted to acknowledge their power.
Right. They never want to acknowledge their power. They’re powerful, and they don’t. I know my power. I know what I can do. … They definitely don’t seem to understand the impact that they have. It kind of does contrast a little bit to Bill Gates. He knew the impact every minute of the day. He understood the power he had. He never pretended otherwise. The new group of internet companies do that sometimes. Google does that sometimes: “Oh, what? We’re just a small little search company,” you know what I mean? It’s kind of fascinating. …
Well, then they’d have to take responsibility for who they are.
That’s right. And then they can’t wear their T-shirts and their Adidas flip-flops, and they can’t pretend that they’re 12, and “Oh, no, I made a mess in my house; maybe Mommy will clean it up.” I don’t know why they do that. It reminds me a great deal – and I’ll end on this. In “The Great Gatsby,” [there’s] that famous quote, “They were careless people.” They didn’t care who they smashed up and broke, and then they moved along in their richness. [Editor’s Note: The actual quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is, “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made….”] It was Tom and Daisy; it was a really famous quote from “The Great Gatsby,” and it just reminds me of that. “They’re careless people,” and I don’t think they are. I think they do care actually, but they’re careless, and they have to do something about it now.
How can they care, and yet be careless? Why won’t you just call them careless?
Because I know them a little bit. I think they do. It’s not malevolent. I guess I deal with people who are malevolent, and I’ve seen malevolence, and it’s not malevolence; it’s something else. I guess it’s the same result, so it doesn’t matter. They’re careless. They’re absolutely careless, and they need to – they’re better people than that. How’s that? They’re better people, and they shouldn’t be careless, and they need to clean it up, and they need to take responsibility, and they need to act like adults. And that would be great, because they could do a lot of good for sure.
originally posted on pbs.org