Mark Zuckerberg Is Never Going To Fire Himself

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Have you read Kara Swisher's new interview with Mark Zuckerberg over at Recode? It's pretty infuriating. Mark's probably not feeling so hot right now — it might be hard to have a good day when the headline "Mark Zuckerberg says Holocaust deniers are making an honest mistake" accurately sums up your extremely unforced error, which was then followed up by another extremely unforced error.

That's definitely the most mind-bogglingly misguided statement Zuckerberg makes in the interview, but it's not the only one worth putting a spotlight on. There's another part where Swisher presses Zuckerberg on Facebook's failure to identify Cambridge Analytica's ruse before it was too late. After letting him stumble through a few limply defensive statements ("I tend to have more faith in the rule of law," "knowing what I know now" and so on), Swisher asks Zuckerberg if someone should have been fired as a result of the Analytica mishap. His response is just, well, exhausting:

Well, I think it's a big issue. But look, I designed the platform, so if someone's going to get fired for this, it should be me. And I think that the important thing going forward is to make sure that we get this right.

"If someone's going to get fired for this, it should be me" should shoot right to the #2 spot of the "things Mark Zuckerberg isn't allowed to say" list, right under "I don't think that [Holocaust deniers] are intentionally getting it wrong." Coming from Zuckerberg, of all people, the statement carries not one iota of seriousness. Swisher goes on to ask if he'll follow through on firing himself, he demurs, she tries to move on and then Zuckerberg awkwardly segues into a joke about Swisher wanting him to do it "just for the news." Actually listening to this moment at around 46 minutes into the podcast version of the interview is maddening: you can hear Zuckerberg grinning as he says "I think we should do what's gonna be right for the community."


The implication, of course, is that keeping him around is what's "gonna be right," and that should surprise nobody. Zuckerberg the CEO saying he thinks he's ultimately the one who should bear the responsibility for Analytica's scheming is meaningless because he is Mark Zuckerberg, billionaire founder first, and he's the (ostensibly responsible, accountable) CEO second. That's an important distinction, and we're far past the point in Facebook's history when Zuckerberg should've dropped his act implying it isn't.

It's a plain fact that, with the way Facebook is organized, Zuckerberg can't be ousted by the rest of the company's board. You don't make the moves to ensure your position the way Zuckerberg did unless, barring a major catastrophe, you plan on running the show for foreseeable future, scandals and criticism be damned. Within Facebook, Zuckerberg is accountable to no one, and frankly, he should act that way.

He doesn't have to take a leaf out of other egomaniacal founders' playbooks. He doesn't need to start calling his critics pedophiles or follow in his close associate's footsteps by stealthily destroying things he hates. He already has his own rich asshole stories to his name (uh, there was a whole Oscar-winning movie about his dickishness). What Zuckerberg needs to do is cut the "it's my bad" act when he's being taken to task on Facebook's failings. He should keep his apologies short and skip right over his pointless self-flagellation, regardless of whether that's his impulse or a not-so-sly deflection tactic. Everybody knows he is, as one analyst put it, "emperor for life" at Facebook, and there's no amount of gee-shucks-I'm-sorry-isms that'll fool a decent journalist like Swisher or a halfway-attentive reader into thinking Zuckerberg would ever entertain the idea of stepping down because his still-monstrously successful company made a mistake under his watch.

Zuckerberg should at least have the decency to get serious and speak in a way that acknowledges that, his screw up or not, he's the guy with final say over new initiatives, firings and hirings in order to make things right (well, "right" to Facebook, and hopefully "better" for a world which might be better off without Facebook at all). By the same measure, he should stop his silly rhetorical game about Facebook technically not selling our data and drop the "this wasn't our intention" language when owning up to inevitable, predictable and clearly devastating misuses of the platform. If someone's going to have their boot on your neck, it isn't more becoming of the person if they sigh and tell you "well, it's not really a boot and it's actually on the part where your neck meets your shoulders, and…" In short, in any situation where he's confronted with questions better than the US Senate could muster, the least Zuckerberg can do is respect our intelligence when talking about his role.

So long as Zuckerberg would have either have to be forced out of Facebook via government action or voluntarily step down, he should start every discussion from a position that acknowledges he isn't going anywhere soon. You can't expect him to be more transparent than he already is or come up with better ideas than he does, but he should stop pretending he's accountable in a meaningful sense. He doesn't have to declare himself King Shit of Fuck Mountain, but it'd at least be a minor improvement for everyone keeping up with Facebook's impact on society if he'd grin from the get-go and tell us he'll "do what's gonna be right for the community": rule Facebook from on-high for as long as there's still a mountain underneath him.

Mathew Olson is an Associate Editor at Digg.

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