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kottke.org posts about Mark Zuckerberg

Zuck the Butcher

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2020

In an opinion piece for the NY Times, Kara Swisher argues that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg “cannot hold on to such enormous power and avoid responsibility when things get tough”. She uses an analogy about a butcher shop to explain the problem at the heart of Facebook:

This week, I finally settled on a simpler comparison: Think about Facebook as a seller of meat products.

Most of the meat is produced by others, and some of the cuts are delicious and uncontaminated. But tainted meat — say, Trump steaks — also gets out the door in ever increasing amounts and without regulatory oversight.

The argument from the head butcher is this: People should be free to eat rotten hamburger, even if it wreaks havoc on their gastrointestinal tract, and the seller of the meat should not be the one to tell them which meat is good and which is bad (even though the butcher can tell in most cases).

Basically, the message is that you should find the truth through vomiting and — so sorry — maybe even death.

She goes on to say:

In this, Mr. Zuckerberg is serving up a rancid meal that he says he’s not comfortable cooking himself, even as his hands control every aspect of the operation.

What’s particularly interesting about this analogy (and Swisher is possibly referencing this between the lines here) is that in 2011, Zuckerberg’s “annual challenge” was only eating meat from animals that he had personally killed.

This year, my personal challenge is around being thankful for the food I have to eat. I think many people forget that a living being has to die for you to eat meat, so my goal revolves around not letting myself forget that and being thankful for what I have. This year I’ve basically become a vegetarian since the only meat I’m eating is from animals I’ve killed myself.

This project later led to a meme-worthy video of him smoking meat in his backyard and Zuckerberg inviting fellow tech CEO Jack Dorsey over to feast on a goat he’d raised and killed.

Dorsey said he and Zuckerberg waited around 30 minutes for the goat to cook in the oven. Afterward, Zuckerberg believed the meal was ready and the two sat together to eat.

“We go in the dining room. He puts the goat down. It was cold,” said Dorsey in Rolling Stone. “That was memorable. I don’t know if it went back in the oven. I just ate my salad.”

Surreal. If all this were from the screenplay of a proposed The Social Network sequel, there’s no way this movie gets greenlit. (via daring fireball)

Sacha Baron Cohen Says Tech Companies Built the “Greatest Propaganda Machine in History”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2019

In a keynote address to the Anti-Defamation League, entertainer Sacha Baron Cohen calls the platforms created by Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other companies “the greatest propaganda machine in history” and blasts them for allowing hate, bigotry, and anti-Semitism to flourish on these services.

Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others — they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged — stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear. It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times. It’s why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth. And it’s no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history- — the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous. As one headline put it, “Just Think What Goebbels Could Have Done with Facebook.”

On the internet, everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC. The fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion look as valid as an ADL report. And the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel Prize winner. We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends.

When I, as the wanna-be-gansta Ali G, asked the astronaut Buzz Aldrin “what woz it like to walk on de sun?” the joke worked, because we, the audience, shared the same facts. If you believe the moon landing was a hoax, the joke was not funny.

When Borat got that bar in Arizona to agree that “Jews control everybody’s money and never give it back,” the joke worked because the audience shared the fact that the depiction of Jews as miserly is a conspiracy theory originating in the Middle Ages.

But when, thanks to social media, conspiracies take hold, it’s easier for hate groups to recruit, easier for foreign intelligence agencies to interfere in our elections, and easier for a country like Myanmar to commit genocide against the Rohingya.

In particular, he singles out Mark Zuckerberg and a speech he gave last month.

First, Zuckerberg tried to portray this whole issue as “choices…around free expression.” That is ludicrous. This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech. This is about giving people, including some of the most reprehensible people on earth, the biggest platform in history to reach a third of the planet. Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach. Sadly, there will always be racists, misogynists, anti-Semites and child abusers. But I think we could all agree that we should not be giving bigots and pedophiles a free platform to amplify their views and target their victims.

Second, Zuckerberg claimed that new limits on what’s posted on social media would be to “pull back on free expression.” This is utter nonsense. The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law” abridging freedom of speech, however, this does not apply to private businesses like Facebook. We’re not asking these companies to determine the boundaries of free speech across society. We just want them to be responsible on their platforms.

If a neo-Nazi comes goose-stepping into a restaurant and starts threatening other customers and saying he wants kill Jews, would the owner of the restaurant be required to serve him an elegant eight-course meal? Of course not! The restaurant owner has every legal right and a moral obligation to kick the Nazi out, and so do these internet companies.

Deepfakes: Imagine All the People

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2019

Here is a video of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama, Kim Jong Un, and other world leaders lip-syncing along to John Lennon’s Imagine:

Of course this isn’t real. The video was done by a company called Canny AI, which offers services like “replace the dialogue in any footage” and “lip-sync your dubbed content in any language”. That’s cool and all — picture episodes of Game of Thrones or Fleabag where the actors automagically lip-sync along to dubbed French or Chinese — but this technique can also be used to easily create what are referred to as deepfakes, videos made using AI techniques in which people convincingly say and do things they actually did not do or say. Like this video of Mark Zuckerberg finally telling the truth about Facebook. Or this seriously weird Steve Buscemi / Jennifer Lawrence mashup:

Or Bill Hader’s face morphing into Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face every time he impersonates him:

What should we do about these kinds of videos? Social media sites have been removing some videos intended to mislead or confuse people, but notably Facebook has refused to take the Zuckerberg video down (as well as a slowed-down video of Nancy Pelosi in which she appears drunk). Congress is moving ahead with a hearing on deepfakes and the introduction of a related bill:

The draft bill, a product of several months of discussion with computer scientists, disinformation experts, and human rights advocates, will include three provisions. The first would require companies and researchers who create tools that can be used to make deepfakes to automatically add watermarks to forged creations.

The second would require social-media companies to build better manipulation detection directly into their platforms. Finally, the third provision would create sanctions, like fines or even jail time, to punish offenders for creating malicious deepfakes that harm individuals or threaten national security. In particular, it would attempt to introduce a new mechanism for legal recourse if people’s reputations are damaged by synthetic media.

I’m hopeful this bill will crack down on the malicious use of deepfakes and other manipulated videos but leave ample room for delightful art and culture hacking like the Hader/Schwarzenegger thing or one of my all-time favorite videos, a slowed-down Jeff Goldblum extolling the virtues of the internet in an Apple ad:

“Internet? I’d say internet!”

Update: Here’s another Bill Hader deepfake, with his impressions of Tom Cruise and Seth Rogen augmented by his face being replaced by theirs.

Instagram Founders Resign from Facebook

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2018

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the two co-founders of Instagram, have resigned from Facebook.

Mr. Systrom, Instagram’s chief executive, and Mr. Krieger, the chief technical officer, notified Instagram’s leadership team and Facebook on Monday of their decision to leave, said people with direct knowledge of the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

In a press release, the pair explained their decision a little:

We’re planning on taking some time off to explore our curiosity and creativity again. Building new things requires that we step back, understand what inspires us and match that with what the world needs; that’s what we plan to do.

Facebook released a statement from CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Twitter (for some weird reason):

Kevin and Mike are extraordinary product leaders and Instagram reflects their combined creative talents. I’ve learned a lot working with them for the past six years and have really enjoyed it. I wish them all the best and I’m looking forward to seeing what they build next.

Sarah Frier’s piece at Bloomberg suggests the pair left because Zuckerberg and the mothership were meddling more and more with Instagram:

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, who have been at the company since Instagram’s acquisition by Facebook in 2012, had been able to keep the brand and product independent while relying on Facebook’s infrastructure and resources to grow. Lately, they were frustrated with an uptick in day-to-day involvement by Zuckerberg, who has become more reliant on Instagram in planning for Facebook’s future, said the people, who asked not to be identified sharing internal details.

Without the founders around, Instagram is likely to become more tightly integrated with Facebook, making it more of a product division within the larger company than an independent operation, the people said.

For years, Systrom and Krieger were able to amicably resist certain Facebook product initiatives that they felt went against their vision, while leaning on Facebook for resources, infrastructure and engineering talent. A new leader may not be able to keep the same balance, or may be more willing to make changes that help the overall company at the expense of some of Instagram’s unique qualities.

Instagram is my favorite app by a mile — it eclipsed Twitter some time ago in that category — and might be the best mobile-native app ever. It is also, I believe, the future of Facebook Inc., a better product with a more favorable trajectory than the sprawling (and now heavily tainted) main FB service. I think Facebook would be doing Instagram and its users a real disservice if they folded it into the mothership instead of giving Instagram room to be the best service it can be on its own terms. This is a strangely conservative move on Zuckerberg’s part, an optimization where a higher degree of freedom and experimentation is called for. I guess we’ll see how this plays out.

Update: Ben Thompson at Stratechery has a keen take on why the Instagram founders left: ultimately, Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO of Instagram and has been since the acquisition.

This is the context for whatever dispute drove Systrom and Krieger’s resignation: not only do they not actually control their own company (because they don’t control monetization), they also aren’t essential to solving the biggest issue facing their product. Instagram Stories monetization is ultimately Facebook’s problem, and in case it wasn’t clear before, it is now obvious that Facebook will provide the solution.

My take is still that FB shouldn’t lean so heavily on Instagram for monetization. Even after many years, the service still has some growth and evolving to do to develop into the heir apparent Zuckerberg & his executive team is looking for. (thx, david)

Mark Zuckerberg invents revolutionary new foundation called “government”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2017

I don’t know when this ran, but I liked this brief article published in Private Eye magazine called Zuckerberg Announces Revolutionary New Foundation to Eliminate Disease.

The genius founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, has announced an inspiring new foundation to which he and his wife will donate huge amounts of their fortune in a bid to defeat all disease over the next century.

“It’s called the government,” said Mr. Zuckerberg. “For such a long time I’ve been pondering how I can make a real difference with the enormous fortune I’ve amassed by concocting clever tax structures that minimise any tax liability from my firm.

“Imagine my shock when it turned out that this ‘government’ is devoted to ending disease. Not only that, it also has side projects dedicated to running schools, hospitals, a road system, parks, a national infrastructure, and lots of other worthy projects which make this planet a decent place to live.

I’m proud to announce that I’ll be giving lots of money to the ‘government’, as I’ve decided to call it, and I fully expect to get a lot of really fantastic publicity out of it.”

This reminded me of a pair of similar essays: I am an American conservative shitheel and I am an American liberal shitheel. (via @paulpod)

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t running for President

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2017

The scuttlebutt around the tech/media internet water cooler over the past few months is that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is going to run for President in 2020. This feeling has been fueled by Zuck’s goal for this year of visiting the remaining 30 or so US states that he has yet to visit and the way in which he’s been documenting his trips. Nathan Hubbard argues that Zuck actually has other things on his mind as he tours America:

Zuck isn’t running for President. He’s trying to understand the role the product he created played in getting this one elected.

Facebook has undergone two major evolutionary events in its history, both of which were driven by what Zuck saw as existential threats.

The incredible revenue growth in mobile (probably the greatest biz execution of our generation) helped Facebook survive a platform shift.

And the fearless acquisitive streak of Instagram, WhatsApp and others helped Facebook survive a shift in how we communicate and organize.

Zuck woke up on Nov 9th acutely aware that FB had facilitated a new shift he didn’t foresee or understand; that’s terrifying to a founder.

He’s the head of product. So he’s ventured out into the world beyond his bubble to do field research and inform how FB will evolve again.

I am also sympathetic to the argument that Zuckerberg doesn’t need to run for President because he’s already the leader of the largest group of people ever assembled in the history of humanity (aside from possibly the British Empire). Facebook doesn’t possess many necessary qualities of a sovereign country, but it also has many advantages that countries don’t. Zuckerberg is already among the world’s most important people and with Facebook still growing, he could one day soon be the most powerful person in the world.

Launching a fleet of nano-probes toward nearest star

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2016

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, with the help of Stephen Hawking and Mark Zuckerburg, plans to launch a fleet of nano-probes1 toward a star close to our solar system, Alpha Centuri. The craft, outfitted with lightsails, will be pushed along to their destination in just 20 years by powerful lasers on Earth.

In the last decade and a half, rapid technological advances have opened up the possibility of light-powered space travel at a significant fraction of light speed. This involves a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts - miniature space probes attached to lightsails - to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour. Such a system would allow a flyby mission to reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years from launch, and beam home images of possible planets, as well as other scientific data such as analysis of magnetic fields.

Breakthrough Starshot aims to demonstrate proof of concept for ultra-fast light-driven nanocrafts, and lay the foundations for a first launch to Alpha Centauri within the next generation. Along the way, the project could generate important supplementary benefits to astronomy, including solar system exploration and detection of Earth-crossing asteroids.

The Atlantic and the NY Times have more information on the initiative.

  1. Sure, we can launch laser-powered nano-probes toward a distant star, but humanity still struggles with proper descriptive URLs.

Coca Cola, McDonald’s, and… Facebook

posted by Aaron Cohen   Oct 04, 2012

Facebook recently went over a billion users served. In an interview with Businessweek, Mark Zuckerberg mentioned a conversation he had with Facebook board member Marc Andreessen, where Andreessen mentioned the likely only other companies with a billion users are Coca Cola and McDonald’s. What does it feel like to have a billion users?

It feels like an honor. We get the honor of building things that a billion people use. I mean, there’s no core need. It isn’t a core human need to use Facebook. It’s a core human need to stay connected with the people you care about. The need to open up and connect is such a deep part of what makes us human. Being in a position where we are the company—or one of the companies—that can play a role in delivering that service is just this … it’s an honor.

The interviewers also asked about how Facebook gets its next billion users and, while Zuckerberg demurred somewhat, Quartz had a look at the version of FB designed for countries without wide smartphone adoption. It runs on WAP and is called Facebook Zero (just like Coke Zero, OMG). Users of the text-only FB are not charged for the data used, and the article posits FB is making the gateway drug argument to the telecoms:

This is because, for the telecoms networks, free Facebook represents a solution to an ever-present existential threat. Their first subscribers were relatively rich; the ones they are gaining now are ever poorer. So the revenue per user is shrinking. At the same time, the amount of data being pushed through their networks is increasing, and customers are demanding faster connection speeds, pushing up the cost of infrastructure. The networks are looking for ways to get more users, and make more money from each one of them.

“The fact is that Facebook has made a compelling argument to operators, which is ‘You should give Facebook away [to consumers] for free,’” says Eagle. “I don’t know how Facebook is making that case, but if I were Facebook, the argument I’d make is that Facebook is one of the most addictive things on the internet. If you have someone try out Facebook for the first time, it might lead them to want to try the rest of the web, and a lot of these other services they can charge for.”

This doesn’t necessarily jive with something Zuckerberg said in the Businessweek interview, and has said numerous times in the past. Facebook doesn’t want to be the gateway drug to the internet, it wants to be the internet.

The whole vision around News Feed was it should be like a newspaper and shouldn’t just be a list of posts your friends are making. I mean we should be able to really show you interesting trends and things that are happening. There are already trillions of connections between friend requests and all the content that’s being pushed into the system. At some point, that will start to be a better map of how you navigate the Web than the traditional link structure of the Web. I think there’s an opportunity to really build something interesting there.

How Mark Zuckerberg became a good CEO

posted by Jason Kottke   May 09, 2012

Writing for New York magazine, Henry Blodget explains how a young startup founder and college dropout became the CEO of a soon-to-be $100 billion company.

When talking about Zuckerberg’s most valuable personality trait, a colleague jokingly invokes the famous Stanford marshmallow tests, in which researchers found a correlation between a young child’s ability to delay gratification — devour one treat right away, or wait and be rewarded with two — with high achievement later in life. If Zuckerberg had been one of the Stanford scientists’ subjects, the colleague jokes, Facebook would never have been created: He’d still be sitting in a room somewhere, not eating marshmallows.

Working with Zuck

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2011

More than a year ago, Facebook engineer Andrew Bosworth wrote a post about how best to work with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

I think one of the biggest mistakes people make when first working with Zuck is feeling that they can’t push back. As long as I have been at Facebook, I have been impressed with how much he prefers to be part of an ongoing discussion about the product as opposed to being its dictator. There are a number of exceptions to this, of course, but that comes with the territory. In those instances where he is quite sure what he wants, I find he is quite good at making his decisions clear and curtailing unneeded debate.

Barring that, you should feel comfortable noting potential problems with a proposal of his or, even better, suggesting alternative solutions. You shouldn’t necessarily expect to change his mind on the spot, but I find it is common for discussions to affect his thinking over a longer time period. Don’t necessarily expect acknowledgment for your role in moving the discussion forward; getting the product right should be its own reward. If you do that, you’ll find you are invited back more and more to the debate.

Facebook is certainly an interesting company…they’re a large company that appears to operate much like a small company. Will be interesting to see if they can keep that up as they get larger, go public, etc.

Stalking in the age of Facebook

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2011

This is the contemporary take on the guy-meets-girl-at-party story. Guy isn’t particularly interested in girl but at some later point starts surreptitiously taking photos of her and posting them to a secret blog. Girl finds out, isn’t creeped out at all. Boy doesn’t feel shame at girl’s discovery, only that it ruined his creative outlet before “he might have gotten better at it or something”. Girl decides to interview boy for her communications class. You know, completely normal.

She messaged Walker through Facebook, and at first he seemed receptive. “He thought it was funny,” said Merker. But after an initial show of interest, Walker got skittish, canceling and rescheduling the interview repeatedly. When Merker finally sat down with him, it was only after she had managed to catch him off-guard, saying she was already in his neighborhood and offering to meet at a bar.

Walker had one condition: he wanted to do the interview “in character” as the persona he had established through the blog. That would mean interviewing Merker, too; after all, any blogger who had devoted an entire Tumblr to a single person would certainly take the opportunity to directly question his subject.

You know when Mark Zuckerberg says stuff like privacy doesn’t matter and Facebook makes formerly private information public without notice and all the tech pundits (most of whom are older than Zuck) go bananas tearing out their hair about how stupid and crazy that is? Now you know where Zuck and Facebook are coming from.

“Zuck’s gonna write code”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2011

From a New York magazine profile of some young Stanford hackers, a fun Mark Zuckerberg anecdote:

Zuckerberg doesn’t code much for Facebook anymore, the same way that Steve Jobs never hand-coded software for the iPhone. But, as the Groups team was adding the finishing touches to its product, Zuckerberg said he wanted to write a few lines. “Everybody was like, Ohhhh, Zuck’s gonna write code,” says Feross. Someone set up an easy bug for him to fix-adding a link to a picture, or something-and he went to work. Five minutes passed. Twenty minutes. An hour. “It took him like two hours to do something that would take one of us who’s an engineer like five minutes,” says Feross. It was like a retired slugger coming back for one last at-bat, for old time’s sake, and finding he’d lost more of his game than he’d reckoned. Still, he got props from Feross & Co. for getting his hands dirty.

Zuckerberg and Style Rookie and Dyson

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2010

The New Yorker has a trio of interesting articles in their most recent issue for the discerning web/technology lady or gentlemen. First is a lengthy profile of Mark Zuckerberg, the quite private CEO of Facebook who doesn’t believe in privacy.

Zuckerberg may seem like an over-sharer in the age of over-sharing. But that’s kind of the point. Zuckerberg’s business model depends on our shifting notions of privacy, revelation, and sheer self-display. The more that people are willing to put online, the more money his site can make from advertisers. Happily for him, and the prospects of his eventual fortune, his business interests align perfectly with his personal philosophy. In the bio section of his page, Zuckerberg writes simply, “I’m trying to make the world a more open place.”

The second is a profile of Tavi Gevinson (sub. required), who you may know as the youngster behind Style Rookie.

Tavi has an eye for frumpy, “Grey Gardens”-inspired clothes and for arch accessories, and her taste in designers runs toward the cerebral. From the beginning, her blog had an element of mystery: is it for real? And how did a thirteen-year-old suburban kid develop such a singular look? Her readership quickly grew to fifty thousand daily viewers and won the ear of major designers.

And C, John Seabrook has a profile of James Dyson (sub. required), he of the unusual vacuum cleaners, unusual hand dryers, and the unusual air-circulating fan.

In the fall of 2002, the British inventor James Dyson entered the U.S. market with an upright vacuum cleaner, the Dyson DC07. Dyson was the product’s designer, engineer, manufacturer, and pitchman. The price was three hundred and ninety-nine dollars. Not only did the Dyson cost much more than most machines sold at retail but it was made almost entirely out of plastic. In the most perverse design decision of all, Dyson let you see the dirt as you collected it, in a clear plastic bin in the machine’s midsection.