On Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of Facebook, gave his first public interviews since the Cambridge Analytica story broke.
He spoke with outlets that form an outline, in a way, of the modern shape of American media. So there was The New York Times and CNN, of course; as well as Wired, the Bay Area’s cultural organ; and Recode, the tech industry’s paper of record.
All four publications have published unedited transcripts of their interviews with him. No one comes off very well in such a format, but I was struck by how poorly Zuckerberg fares. His company is facing its worst trading days since it went public, and users are fleeing its flagship product in large enough numbers to generate trend stories. The company’s long-simmering crisis of public trust has finally come to a head.
Yet when asked about these existential stakes, Zuckerberg doesn’t seem to get it. Take this exchange with Kevin Roose, a New York Times technology reporter:
Roose: Is the basic economic model of Facebook, in which users provide data that Facebook uses to help advertisers and developers to better target potential customers and users—do you feel like that works, given what we now know about the risks?
Zuckerberg: Yeah, so this is a really important question. The thing about the ad model that is really important that aligns with our mission is that—our mission is to build a community for everyone in the world and to bring the world closer together. And a really important part of that is making a service that people can afford. A lot of the people, once you get past the first billion people, can’t afford to pay a lot. Therefore, having it be free and have a business model that is ad-supported ends up being really important and aligned.
This question is “really important,” but Zuckerberg doesn’t seem to grasp why or how. He says that Facebook’s ad-driven business model is crucial to its mission. He seems to assume that everyone has bought into Facebook’s mission.