Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal to censor President Trump’s calls for violence on the social-media platform has led to a small-scale revolt within the company, where employees held a virtual walkout earlier this week. But Zuckerberg isn’t bending, preferring to wrap himself in the concept of free speech rather than directly addressing Trump’s language. On the latest episode of the Pivot podcast, Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway discuss why Zuckerberg’s focus on the First Amendment is disingenuous.
Kara Swisher: Facebook doubled down on its policy to keep Trump’s racist and inflammatory remarks on the platform. In a call with employees, who protested Facebook’s lack of response to Trump, Mark Zuckerberg said his decision was tough but thorough. He said he did research, but he did not reveal what that research was. Earlier this week, some Facebook employees participated in a virtual walkout. They didn’t come to work and posted messages in solidarity with protesters asking Zuckerberg to take action on Trump’s consistent posts that encourage violence and racism. And then it came out that Zuckerberg actually had a call with the president last week.
I wrote a pretty tough column about the difference between free speech and amplifying speech like this. I called Mark the world’s most expensive customer-service rep after he had to explain Facebook policies to Trump. I certainly have a point of view that Mark Zuckerberg is not doing his job, but others disagree with me. So what do you think?
Scott Galloway: Yeah, I think you almost got it right. I don’t think he’s the world’s most expensive customer-service agent. He’s arguably the least expensive whore in the world. Anyone with a credit card who will spend $2 or $3, Mark Zuckerberg will do something. He will do anything as long as there’s a nickel at the end of it.
Swisher: Do you think it’s money?
Galloway: One hundred percent. Every action, every decision he has ever made, points to one place: How do I get the stock up? And that’s why investors love him.
Swisher: I don’t agree with you on this. I think there’s a lot more going on there. He’s been struggling with this.
Galloway: He doesn’t struggle. He struggled to get away with it.
Swisher: Well, it’s interesting. There was a post by a lot of the early Facebook people who I knew very well saying Mark is ridiculous. It was then attacked by another Facebook executive who was not one of my favorite Facebook executives, who was then attacked by another Facebook executive. But what I came away with was what Casey Newton said to me: “Facebook doesn’t like other people policing Facebook.” You know what I mean? It was really interesting because it was ex-Facebookers fighting ex-Facebookers about Facebook. It’s been really fascinating. And I recall the conversation I had with this guy who posted that the people who are complaining just couldn’t hack it, couldn’t scale, probably got pushed out. And that’s where he started his discussion: “You can’t scale. So you don’t get to have a say.”
Galloway: That’s the ultimate insult.
Swisher: It is. It’s just really interesting that there’s this internal war going on at Facebook, which you never saw before. They were always sort of lockstep.
Galloway: Is it really a war? It’s like a border skirmish.
Swisher: I’m wondering if it will have an impact on this company. When does it have an impact?
Galloway: I think Sheryl Sandberg and Carolyn Everson are strangely quiet on this.
Swisher: Quiet. They’re silent, silent.
Galloway: “We’re going to let Mark take this one.”
Swisher: They should speak out. Both of them should be doing that. It’s really interesting. It’s an interesting conundrum. The same thing happened over at the Times with this Tom Cotton piece. A lot of people didn’t feel like they could speak out. I did. Jamelle Bouie did. Charlie Warzel did. Supporting some of the African-American staff at the New York Times who were saying this is dangerous.
One of the things that I found interesting was that it degenerates into a free-speech argument, when it’s really about, “What do we amplify?” I think Jay Rosen said that. I thought it was pretty smart.
Galloway: Let’s be honest. This has nothing to do with the First Amendment. It’s about the second Gulf Stream, specifically the pursuit of their second Gulfstream. This isn’t a First Amendment issue. It’s a second Gulfstream issue. And that is, they throw out the First Amendment, as if any of them could give a good goddamn about the First Amendment, as if any of them understand it. Private companies aren’t subject to the First Amendment. I’m sick of it.
Swisher: I know. Mark drags it in.
Galloway: That’s a distraction. The key is, does your profit machine wreak so much havoc on the commonwealth that it requires regulation? And for about ten years, we have seen that that business model that is fueled on rage creates enormous externality around teen depression, around perversion of our democracy, around not putting in place the requisite safeguards to ensure bad actors don’t weaponize your platform. And now around pouring fuel on the flames of incredible, incredible civil unrest in our society.
And yet they’re going to distract us. They’re going to wait, they’re going to delay. And we’re likely not going to do anything until either there’s someone else in the White House or the DOJ or the FTC get the funding they deserve. It’s just ridiculous. Where does everyone communicate their outrage at Facebook? On Instagram. It’s as if we were to say that we’re so angry at Donald Trump we’re going to vote for him again, so that he has to listen to us for four more years. Until advertisers, until customers, or consumers …
Swisher: And they won’t.
Galloway: And they won’t, you’re right. They won’t.
Swisher: I said in the column that Mark has been playing the long game long enough to know he never pays for anything.
Galloway: He’s a brilliant man.
Swisher: He never pays for anything and advertisers will continue to go to Facebook. It’s the only casino. And so it’s really hard to be a marketer and not be present on one of his platforms.
Galloway: One hundred percent. I do think there’s a business lesson here, or a brand-strategy lesson here. I try to taxonomize business concepts in the news, because I think there’s a lot to be learned here and I realize it’s maybe cheapening what’s going on. But in terms of big tech, one of the things I try and encourage my kids to do is to understand the concept of laddering. And that is saying, “How do you de-position the competition by saying, ‘We’re this. They’re this.’” What action could you undertake or communicate that is not as much about enhancing your own image as it is about going after the competition?
The ultimate laddering or de-positioning took place two years ago or 18 months ago, when, in an interview with you on MSNBC, Tim Cook said, “Privacy is a …” What was the term he used? “Privacy is a profound right.” He wasn’t talking about Apple’s privacy. He was talking about Facebook and Google. He was de-positioning them. And I think Snap’s move, deciding no longer to give free organic promotion on their Discovery channel with Trump — I think they’re basically saying, “Okay, this isn’t as much about Snap as it is going after Facebook.” And basically everyone now is going to see a profit incentive and it will create tremendous progress.
Swisher: Yeah, to attack Facebook.
Galloway: And I think Twitter’s going to get there. Just say, “Okay, we need to be the anti-Facebook.” And Facebook has a tough time because they’re still trying to appeal to everybody.
Swisher: People have been waiting for that. It’s the right business move by Snapchat. And it is actually also keeping in line with Evan Spiegel, who has largely created a service that is more pleasant to use, and it doesn’t have the same problems because of the architecture of it.
Galloway: But here’s the problem.
Swisher: It’s too small.
Galloway: That’s exactly right. Coming out of this pandemic, there’s going to be the mother of all consolidation, and everyone from Twitter to Snap to Pinterest — they’re in trouble. Because what typically happens coming out of these kinds of economic shocks is everyone — all the advertisers — take a dramatic step down.
You’re going to see big advertisers not come back to broadcast advertising. Not only that, they’re going to decide playtime is over, and they’re going to only go with the online guys that scale. And that’s Google and Facebook. Pinterest, Twitter, Snap — they’re not going to have the V-shape recovery snapback that Facebook and Google will have. They have 1/20th to 1/40th of the market cap. So they’re in a position, quite frankly, to start taking bigger cuts at the ball because they have to. They have got to figure out something. They’ve either got to merge with each other or they have to start carving out new niches. They have to go on offense because they are not going to recover the same way these other guys are. And if you look at their market caps, there’s a multiple of revenues, as a multiple of earnings.
And there was always this notion that they would grow into these valuations, that they were the little guys. They were the little engines that could, but now they’re beginning to look like just the little engines. If they’re not careful, their stocks are going to collapse. So they have to start taking some risks.
Pivot is produced by Rebecca Sananes. Erica Anderson is the executive producer.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.