Seemingly every company and corporate entity has released a statement of solidarity with the protesters who have gathered en masse in cities across the country. But many of these messages have seemed discordant with the moment, especially when they’re not paired with a specific call to action. In the latest episode of the Pivot podcast, Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway discuss what message companies should be advancing — if any at all — at this deeply anxious time in America.
Kara Swisher: Civil unrest continues, and we’re not only talking about business, but let’s talk a little bit about business. Some of Facebook’s employees, who never really complain — they’re sort of the most cult-y — have walked off the job. Mark Zuckerberg has sort of tried to put himself into the Trump camp by appearing on Fox News and saying he doesn’t want to be the “arbiter of truth” and attacking Jack Dorsey for labeling some of Trump’s tweets.
So what do you think is its responsibility for its users and its employees — specifically its black employees? And what should be the response from companies generally? There’s been relative silence from tech. Nike produced an ad that flipped their “Just Do It” tagline to “Don’t Do It” — as in, don’t ignore systemic racism. Then Adidas, its longtime rival, added “Together is how we move forward.” Record labels across the $10 billion music industry issued an agreement to give employees Tuesday off in protest. Warner Music Group, Sony, Universal Music, Motown, Capitol Records, and Columbia Records are some major labels participating. There’s all kinds of things going on. Any comment about how companies should react to this? Take Facebook first.
Scott Galloway: Well, I’m just kind of sick of hearing Facebook people going on background saying how disappointed and upset they are as they cash their checks and go down to the cafeteria. People have a right to make a living, and it’s a great company on a lot of levels, but I think you’re complicit if you work for Facebook, at one of the most damaging and dangerous organizations in the world. And your grandkids are going to be really embarrassed to say that Nana worked at Facebook. I just don’t think there’s any getting around it. I think history is going to judge you and your co-workers really harshly. And going on background to the New York Times saying that you’re distressed and upset about Trump … I don’t think that does anyone any fucking good.
Swisher: Mark Zuckerberg is the Susan Collins of the internet. “I’m concerned. I’m disturbed and concerned.” This kind of bullshit response. But how should companies respond?
Galloway: Over the weekend, in the last 72 hours, I’ve talked to a major apparel and shoe manufacturer, a large CPG company, and a big specialty retailer. And the question was, “How do you think we respond to this?” And they’re all with their agencies saying, “This is an opportunity.” My attitude is: I didn’t like the Nike ad. I love Nike. But I thought Amazon actually had a stronger statement. They just said, “We stand with these people.” But I don’t even think that’s the right thing. I think, unless you’re going to come out with a specific goal, or action item, or a specific commitment, I just think you keep it to yourself.
My advice to anyone right now in this environment is to keep it to yourself unless you’re going to announce a specific action. “We are going to ensure that by X date our executive ranks look like America. We are going to fund X initiative to ensure more young men and women of color have access to affordable education.” Whatever it might be. I thought what you just mentioned is a fantastic thing. The record labels said, “We’re giving people the day off to protest, if they choose to.”
Swisher: Yeah. Just like voting.
Galloway: But these platitudes …
Swisher: Yeah, I know. “Have a Coke and a smile.”
Galloway: “We’re in it together. And we’re going to get through this, and we stand with …” I might be cynical, because I just see so much of it.
Swisher: I don’t think you are.
Galloway: I think we may have jumped the shark here.
Swisher: I think we’re all susceptible to marketing. “I’d like to teach the world to sing,” “Have a Coke and a smile,” or any Kodak commercial could make me tear up in a second. But if you’re watching them from a different perspective, you’d be like, That’s bullshit. It’s bullshit with the Coke and a smile. That’s not how it works. I’ll grab a Coke and I’ll get stopped for shoplifting, even though I did nothing.
I think you’re right — companies should say something concrete. And then do something. Like Mark: Take down Trump’s posts. Or cover them or whatever. Label them. If you don’t feel comfortable taking them down, label them as dangerous. The fact that they didn’t take down that “looting and shooting” one — which is such a crystal-clear example of inciting violence and using a racist trope to do so … to me, I don’t know what would make him do it. And then there was reporting from Axios that Zuckerberg had a call with Trump and said he was concerned. Trump gave him a call. What is Zuckerberg, customer fucking service for President Trump? “Hey, dude, you might be being a little problematic for me.” But the call was all about Facebook and none of it about solving the problem. You’re right — concrete things need to be done. What would you do if you were any of these tech companies or any company?
Galloway: Well, first off, I’m not sure I agree with “say something.” So the NFL put out a statement, Roger Goodell. I’ll just read the last paragraph: I just pulled it up, “As current events dramatically underscore, there remains much more to do as a country and as a league. These tragedies inform the NFL’s commitment and our ongoing efforts. There remains an urgent need for action. We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society. We embrace that responsibility and are committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs and partners.”
That’s how to say nothing. And I find that that’s worse than saying nothing. It’s wanting credit for actually saying something. Clearly, this was massaged — strangled by a series of $850-an-hour PR and communications consultants that said, okay, we’re going to water this down and we’re going to bastardize and gangbang this statement until you can’t recognize it.
Swisher: Colin Kaepernick couldn’t play in the league because he peacefully protested police violence, ironically, by taking a knee. He takes a knee and he loses his career.
Galloway: That is thick with irony, no doubt about it.
Swisher: So back Colin Kaepernick for doing what he’s doing. Anything that comes out of the NFL — given that 70 percent of the players are African-American men, it’s just like, stop. Please stop.
Galloway: There is a gangster opportunity in all of this.
Swisher: Say nothing? Don’t even make a statement?
Galloway: If you can’t get your act together and commit to something or say something that’s heartfelt and real, keep it to yourself.
Swisher: Have you seen anything that’s heartfelt and real from anybody?
Galloway: Well, I don’t love Amazon, but I don’t know. Their statement felt political and dangerous and will clearly alienate some people. It didn’t have a specific-action item, but it was a declarative definitive statement that took a stand. And I think all these other guys are like, Well, we don’t want to piss off our white owners. We don’t want to piss off the people in Green Bay, but we don’t want to piss off our fans in Detroit. The NFL is just trying to have it all ways.
Swisher: But like the record companies giving people the day off, giving them an actionable thing.
Galloway: I think that’s outstanding. That’s what Hearst does, by the way. Hearst for a long time has given everyone the day off on all election days, which I think is wonderful.
Swisher: Well, that should be a national holiday.
Galloway: Yeah. But look, you asked about social media. I think there’s a moment here, a real opportunity for Twitter, as it relates to Trump. And that is: Everything has been politicized from … The environment used to be a bipartisan issue, then it became politicized. And fast-forward now —masks have become politicized, and now there’s just no getting around it. Social media is about to become politicized, and I think Twitter has an opportunity to lean in and start enforcing its terms of service, kick off tens of thousands of accounts, including the person who violates every term of service — the president — and lean into and use this as cloud cover to go to, slowly but surely, a subscription model where it charges people based on the number of followers they have.
I think it would not only get rid of the fire or the kerosene underneath the rage machine that is tearing apart our society and the world society, but at 1/20th the market cap of Facebook, it has the opportunity to take bolder, bigger risks. And even if the revenue declined by 20, 30, 50 percent, its share price would likely go up because it would move to a recurring-revenue business model.
Swisher: I’ve talked to a lot of lawyers this week. All of them tell me the safest thing legally actually is to kick him off.
Galloway: Oh, they’re fine. And for the first time, I’m coming to your side of the boat. For the first time, I think Trump’s actually not going to get reelected, so he wouldn’t have time to really go after them. But there’s an opportunity for Twitter here to do something, not only meaningful and good for the world, but also good for shareholders. Because the bottom line is their ad model, which is the underlying rage machine, isn’t working.
Pivot is produced by Rebecca Sananes. Erica Anderson is the executive producer.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.