Longtime tech journalist Kara Swisher has been covering the company formerly known as Facebook and its once very young founder for more than 15 years. So in light of Meta’s big decision, last week, to allow Donald Trump back on its platforms, the latest episode of On With Kara Swisher features a conversation between Kara and producer Nayeema Raza about how Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, and his inner circle have and have not changed over the years.
They talk about the time Swisher asked Zuckerberg if he would fire himself, Zuck’s old “I’m a CEO, Bitch” business card (which Kara still has), and how Meta and its leader are now stuck between a TikTok and a hard place. In the excerpt below, Raza and Swisher discuss whether letting the former president back in will be good for the company, Trump, or the unenviable Facebook employees who are about to become babysitters of one of the platforms’ most notorious rule-breakers, as well as the meaning of Zuckerberg’s supposed outsourcing of the Trump decision to Facebook VP Nick Clegg.
On With Kara Swisher
Nayeema Raza: So is this Mark evolving as a leader or devolving as a leader?
Kara Swisher: It is still his call. I just, whatever, he can give it over to Nick Clegg, you know, a glorified person that he puts in place, or whoever.
Nayeema Raza: Glorified?
Kara Swisher: Well, you know … he doesn’t have any skin in the game that Mark does. I mean he does, I guess, he sort of does. But it’s easier to put in this very smooth-talking British guy who’s been in politics, to just give it off to him. I find it fascinating that he wanted the responsibility. But it is ultimately Mark’s decision. I don’t know what would’ve happened if he would’ve disagreed, but I never thought they were gonna do anything but let [Trump] on the platform.
Nayeema Raza: Importantly, the decision is not unlimited. Clegg talks about guardrails, a “crisis political protocol.” He also talks about it not being immediate. Nick Clegg says that engineers need some time to build out some of this guardrail functionality because they wanna monitor what Trump does and says that there’s potential sanctions or resuspensions for further violations.
Kara Swisher: Oh God. It’s gonna be endless and terrible. What a terrible job for someone at Facebook to have to watch, to babysit this guy. You know, this constant persistent violator of rules.
I think they’ve created a perfect machine where you can’t, where nothing is a good decision. There’s no good decisions here. And so they either have to decide, We’re just gonna do what we want and take the slings and arrows, or they’re gonna have to let everybody talk, and those are the two choices, essentially. And then deal with those slings and arrows, you know, and the damage that could come with it.
Nayeema Raza: When I worked in Libya there, Gaddafi used to do this thing called direct democracy, where everyone would vote on every single issue through these councils, and it was just a way to create chaos. The ultimate decision maker was obviously him.
Kara Swisher: Right. A hundred percent. You know, I think [Mark] just doesn’t want to — he thought he was starting this site, and all of a sudden he’s involved in world affairs, and I don’t think, for one, he’s capable of it. Most people aren’t, by the way. And two, he doesn’t like it. It’s like, “Ugh. All I get is shit.” And that’s right. Well, don’t build such a shitty platform if you don’t want shit. I don’t know what to say. It’s weird.
Nayeema Raza: So let’s do a quick lightning round on this. Okay. So one: Explain why this is a big deal because, even Elon reinstates Trump’s Twitter count, explain how this is different and the fundraising aspect of it.
Kara Swisher: Well, Twitter, he just gets to like — he’s the id. He just gets to say stupid, racist and sexist — whatever he is saying that day, something terrible, insulting some group of people and punching down to people. That’s just noise, and I don’t think it really affects anything. And it gives him attention. It’s sort of a carnival circus essentially. In this case, he uses [Facebook] for fundraising. It’s a super-effective way to raise money and to get people on his side. And that’s, it’s very effective that way. You can’t do that on Twitter. It just doesn’t … there’s no mechanism.
Nayeema Raza: Since May of 2018, Trump and his affiliated group spent $159 million on Facebook and Instagram ads. And even though Facebook did make it harder with ads after 2016, it became less useful to politicians in 2020.
Kara Swisher: Well, it’s still incredibly useful.
Nayeema Raza: Do you think it’s a good business decision for Facebook to reinstate Trump, especially since Mark has been trying to pull the company out of politics? The Wall Street Journal recently reported that in 2021, he actually tried to clear the newsfeed of politics a bit.
Kara Swisher: Yeah, he did. Why would you wanna be in this mess? It’s no, there’s no plus. It’s not that good a business compared to other businesses. And meanwhile, as he’s mired in this political stuff, over at TikTok they’re dancing and having fun and doing ASMR. And so I don’t think it’s a very good business at all, especially the direction he’s going. He’s just gonna be in this endless Groundhog Day cycle of Trump. He’ll never … he can’t quit him. You know, that kind of thing.
Nayeema Raza: Is it a good decision from a policy perspective? I mean, we talked about this before, kind of the inconsistency with leaders around the globe.
Kara Swisher: I don’t think there’s any good decision. There’s no good decision. Trump is so polarized and they helped create Trump’s ability to be in office. So I am mixed. It’s like, yeah, the ayatollah says some terrible things, why isn’t he off it? But there are lines, actually, that Trump constantly goes over. And I do have a sense that — my only thing about Should he be able to say whatever he wants and people can hear him? — he has plenty of other places, including, you know, the microphone.
Nayeema Raza: It’s definitely cut down.
Kara Swisher: I think the issue is nobody wants to listen to him anymore. And that’s what’s gonna happen here. Like, he seems to have lost a step everywhere, in all the different mediums. So if he says something stupid on Twitter or Facebook, do we care anymore? Like if a Trump falls in the forest, does anyone hear it?
Nayeema Raza: Especially, I mean, in that they have something in common because Facebook is a little irrelevant these days. Instagram, of course, is powerful. WhatsApp is powerful. But like, if a tree falls in an empty forest …
Kara Swisher: If a racist tweet falls in the forest, does anyone hear it?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On With Kara Swisher is produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Cristian Castro Rossel, and Rafaela Siewert, with mixing by Fernando Arruda, engineering by Christopher Shurtleff, and theme music by Trackademics. New episodes will drop every Monday and Thursday. Follow the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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