Mark Zuckerberg’s former mentor, Silicon Valley investor Roger McNamee, writes about Facebook’s downfall.
I am really sad about Facebook.
I got involved with the company more than a decade ago and have taken great pride and joy in the company’s success … until the past few months. Now I am disappointed. I am embarrassed. I am ashamed. With more than 1.7 billion members, Facebook is among the most influential businesses in the world. Whether they like it or not–whether Facebook is a technology company or a media company–the company has a huge impact on politics and social welfare. Every decision that management makes can matter to the lives of real people. Management is responsible for every action. Just as they get credit for every success, they need to be held accountable for failures. Recently, Facebook has done some things that are truly horrible, and I can no longer excuse its behavior.
Nine days before the November 2016 election, I sent the email above to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. It was the text for an op-ed I was planning to publish about problems I was seeing on Facebook. Earlier in the year, I noticed a surge of disturbing images, shared by friends, that originated on Facebook Groups ostensibly associated with the Bernie Sanders campaign, but it was impossible to imagine they came from his campaign. I wanted to share with Sandberg and Zuckerberg my fear that bad actors were exploiting Facebook’s architecture and business model to inflict harm on innocent people.
I am a longtime tech investor and evangelist. Tech has been my career and my passion. I had been an early adviser to Zuckerberg–Zuck, to many colleagues and friends–and an early investor in Facebook. I had been a true believer for a decade. My early meetings with Zuck almost always occurred in his office, generally just the two of us, so I had an incomplete picture of the man, but he was always straight with me. I liked Zuck. I liked his team. I was a fan of Facebook. I was one of the people he would call on when confronted with new or challenging issues. Mentoring is fun for me, and Zuck could not have been a better mentee. We talked about stuff that was important to Zuck, where I had useful experience. More often than not, he acted on my counsel.
When I sent that email to Zuck and Sheryl, I assumed that Facebook was a victim. What I learned in the months that followed–about the 2016 election, about the spread of Brexit lies, about data on users being sold to other groups–shocked and disappointed me. It took me a very long time to accept that success had blinded Zuck and Sheryl to the consequences of their actions. I have never had a reason to bite Facebook’s hand. Even at this writing, I still own shares in Facebook. My criticism of the company is a matter of principle, and owning shares is a good way to make that point. I became an activist because I was among the first to see a catastrophe unfolding, and my history with the company made me a credible voice.
This is a story of my journey. It is a story about power. About privilege. About trust, and how it can be abused.
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