In leaked audio, Mark Zuckerberg rallies Facebook against critics and the US government
In two hours of leaked audio, Mark Zuckerberg rallies Facebook employees against critics, competitors, and the US government
ALL HANDS ON DECK
In two hours of leaked audio, Mark Zuckerberg rallies Facebook employees against critics, competitors, and the US government.
by Casey Newton
October 1, 2019
July should have been a relief for Facebook. The company accepted a $5 billion fine from the Federal Trade Commission over privacy issues, after having essentially set the terms of the agreement itself. It settled a case with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which alleged that it had misled investors about the risks of user data being mishandled, for a relatively paltry $100 million. And Facebook reported stellar quarterly earnings on July 24th, beating investor expectations and sending its stock price up.
But inside the company, the mood remained anxious. Several 2020 presidential candidates, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), had called for Facebook to be broken up. Libra, a Facebook-created cryptocurrency, had run into strong resistance from regulators around the world who worried that it could destabilize the global financial system. Employees had questions about Zuckerberg himself — Why had the CEO declined multiple requests to appear at government hearings in Europe? — and worried about Facebook’s increasingly dim reputation among their peers.
These questions were raised at two open meetings with employees in July. The Verge obtained two hours of audio from the meetings, which include extended question-and-answer sessions between Zuckerberg and his employees. In language that is often more candid than he typically uses in his public comments, Zuckerberg seeks to rally the company against Facebook’s competitors, critics, and the US government.
On the potential breakup of Facebook
“You have someone like Elizabeth Warren who thinks that the right answer is to break up the companies … if she gets elected president, then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge. And does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government. … But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.”
On how Big Tech can “solve the issues”
“It’s just that breaking up these companies, whether it’s Facebook or Google or Amazon, is not actually going to solve the issues. And, you know, it doesn’t make election interference less likely. It makes it more likely because now the companies can’t coordinate and work together.”
…and why Twitter can’t
“It’s why Twitter can’t do as good of a job as we can. I mean, they face, qualitatively, the same types of issues. But they can’t put in the investment. Our investment on safety is bigger than the whole revenue of their company.” [laughter]
Zuckerberg sounds earnest and genial throughout the Q&A sessions. He jokes repeatedly about how he would have been fired several times over the years if he had not negotiated for total control over the company, drawing laughter from his employees. He also explains why he has repeatedly refused to testify in front of governments around the world, and he talks about the awkward rollout of Libra, the Facebook-developed cryptocurrency.
On refusing to testify before other governments
“I’m not going to go to every single hearing around the world. A lot of different people want to do that. When the issues came up last year around Cambridge Analytica, I did hearings in the US. I did hearings in the EU. It just doesn’t really make sense for me to go to hearings in every single country that wants to have me show up.”
On Libra’s rocky rollout
“The public things, I think, tend to be a little more dramatic. But a bigger part of it is private engagement with regulators around the world, and those, I think, often, are more substantive and less dramatic. And those meetings aren’t being played for the camera, but that’s where a lot of the discussions and details get hashed out on things.”
The CEO also speaks earnestly about challenges the company faces, whether it’s about Facebook’s unusually large amount of downtime this year or what obligations the company has for its 30,000 contracted content moderators.
Asked about The Verge’s stories this year on content moderation, Zuckerberg dismisses them as “a little overdramatic.” “With a population of 30,000 people, there’s going to be a distribution of experiences that people have,” Zuckerberg says.
On protecting contract content moderators
“Some of the reports, I think, are a little overdramatic. From digging into them and understanding what’s going on, it’s not that most people are just looking at just terrible things all day long. But there are really bad things that people have to deal with, and making sure that people get the right counseling and space and ability to take breaks and get the mental health support that they need is a really important thing."
Elsewhere in the conversations, Zuckerberg presents a plan for halting the global advance of its latest competitor, ByteDance’s video app TikTok. The company introduced a clone named Lasso and released it in Mexico — where TikTok has yet to make inroads — in an attempt to perfect the product before rolling it out elsewhere.
On competing with TikTok
“We have a product called Lasso that’s a standalone app that we’re working on, trying to get product-market fit in countries like Mexico … We’re trying to first see if we can get it to work in countries where TikTok is not already big before we go and compete with TikTok in countries where they are big."
While many of the issues discussed during the meetings are serious, Zuckerberg also tries to lighten the mood. When one person asks whether Facebook would ever use its brain-computer interface technology for ad-targeting purposes, Zuckerberg muses about the challenges of building a brain-computer interface using invasive surgery techniques.
“You think Libra is hard to launch,” Zuckerberg quips. He imagines what the headlines would say: “Facebook wants to perform brain surgery.”
“I don’t want to see the congressional hearings on that one,” he says, as the room breaks into laughter.
Elsewhere in the transcripts, Zuckerberg discusses TikTok’s biggest challenge, why he wants to maintain total control over the company, and what Facebook employees should tell friends who think badly of the company.
Taken together, the questions and answers convey how deeply recent events have rattled the company. Read them all here.
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