Facebook and Zuckerberg still don't know the right thing to do

Commentary: In a rambling, desperate interview with CNN, Facebook's CEO showed that, when it comes to having leadership instincts, he's found wanting.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

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He twitched and he strained.

He tried to stick to the script given him by his PR and legal handlers, even making his first remarks almost identical to the statement he'd published earlier on Facebook.

He tried to make his company out to be some sort of victim.

But at the core of Mark Zuckerberg's painfully uncomfortable sitdown with CNN's Laurie Segall was one sad impression: Zuckerberg still has little idea about doing the right thing.

Perhaps he doesn't have enough experience in it.

After all, when you've spent your career moving fast and breaking the world, you don't stop to wonder whether it's the right thing to do. Because it just feels so right.

He admitted Facebook hadn't got it right when it failed to inform users that their data had been scattered to the four corners of the world, there to be used by Cambridge Analytica and, who knows, the 40 Russian horsemen of the Apocalypse.

When asked about why, at the end of 2015, Facebook didn't tell users that their data had been sold to Cambridge Analytica by a researcher, Zuckerberg offered: "So yes. And let me tell you what actions we took."

So yes, the question was begging you to say what the right course of action was, Mr. Zuckerberg. Telling your users was the right course of action. You didn't do it.

He tried to focus the conversation on what would happen in the future, on how Facebook wouldn't get fooled again. Yes, Facebook will finally get it right, just like the last time it promised.

It was quite chilling, indeed, when he admitted that now, finally, the company won't just take people's word for it. Which suggested this had been its norm.

"Have you done a good enough job yet?" Segall asked him.

"Well, I think we will see," was his instinctive response.

No, Mr. Zuckerberg. We've seen. You haven't done a good job because you've rarely done the right thing. Knowing the right thing to do is one of the core tenets of leadership.

Instead, you've insisted you know people don't want privacy and that Facebook would now define the social norms. That was eight years ago and you acted upon it by playing loosey-goosey with people's privacy. That wasn't the right thing to do, was it? Has anything really changed?

In the CNN interview, Facebook's CEO didn't realize at times that he was making himself look a touch clueless, as well as righteous.

"So, you know, I think the reality here is that this isn't rocket science, right?" he said.

Somehow, though, this non-rocket science eluded the vast brains at Facebook. Why? Because they were too busy hurtling to take over the world. Which may not, in retrospect, have been the right thing to do.

Answering CNN is one thing, but is Zuckerberg prepared to face Congress and explain himself?

"So, the short answer is, is I'm happy to," he said. 

Wait for it. 

"If it's the right thing to do," he added.

It seems that Mark Zuckerberg needs to be told what the right thing to do really is.

Who's going to tell him?

There was a ray of hope when he admitted that he was open to the idea of Facebook being regulated.

Then he added: "You know, I think in general, technology is an increasingly important trend in the world, and I actually think the question is more what is the right regulation rather than yes or no, should it be regulated?"

Mark Zuckerberg doesn't know what the right regulation might be because he seems not to have learned the difference between right and not so right at all, between doing the right thing and keeping everything under wraps and everyone in the dark.

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick had to learn the hard way about the right thing to do.

Perhaps Zuckerberg should have to do the same.

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