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Zucked

Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe

By Roger McNamee
13-minute read
Audio available
Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe by Roger McNamee

Zucked (2019) is one early Facebook investor’s personal warning about the dangers of the platform. It vividly describes how Facebook is damaging both public health and the health of our democracies. From manipulating public opinion to building our addiction to technology, the picture painted in Zucked is of a business unmoored from civic or moral responsibility.

  • Everyone who uses Facebook
  • People concerned about data privacy, the manipulation of public opinion or tech-addiction
  • Anyone interested in the future of social media and tech-giants

Roger McNamee has been an investor in Silicon Valley for over three decades, and was an early-stage investor in both Facebook and Google. His most recent fund, Elevation, was co-founded with U2’s Bono. Outside of investing, he campaigns to build awareness of the negative impacts of social media.

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Zucked

Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe

By Roger McNamee
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe by Roger McNamee
Synopsis

Zucked (2019) is one early Facebook investor’s personal warning about the dangers of the platform. It vividly describes how Facebook is damaging both public health and the health of our democracies. From manipulating public opinion to building our addiction to technology, the picture painted in Zucked is of a business unmoored from civic or moral responsibility.

Key idea 1 of 8

Technological and economic changes enabled Facebook’s growth and a dangerous internal culture.

Back in the twentieth century, there weren’t many successful Silicon Valley start-ups run by people fresh out of college. Successful computer engineering relied on skill and experience and needed to overcome the constraints of limited computer processing power, storage and memory. The need for serious hardware infrastructure meant that not just anyone could build a start-up – and be an instant success.

Technological developments in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries fundamentally changed this. When Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in 2004, many of these barriers to new companies had simply disappeared. Engineers could create a workable product quickly, thanks to open-source software components like the browser Mozilla. And the emergence of cloud storage meant that start-ups could simply pay a monthly fee for their network infrastructures, rather than having to build something costly themselves.

Suddenly, the lean start-up model emerged. Businesses like Facebook no longer needed to work slowly toward perfection before launching a product. They could quickly build something basic, push it out to users and update from there. Facebook’s famous “move fast and break things” philosophy was born.

This also had a profound impact on the culture of companies like Facebook. No longer did an entrepreneur like Zuckerberg need a large and experienced pool of engineers with serious systems expertise to deliver a business plan.

In fact, we know that Zuckerberg didn’t want people with experience. Inexperienced young men – and they were more often than not men – were not only cheaper, but could be molded in his image, making the company easier to manage.

In the early years of Facebook, Zuckerberg himself was resolutely confident, not just in his business plan, but in the self-evidently beneficial goal of connecting the world. And as Facebook’s user numbers – and eventually, profitability – skyrocketed, why would anyone on his team question him? And even if they wanted to, Zuckerberg had set up Facebook’s shareholding rules so that he held a “golden vote,” meaning the company would always do what he decided.

To grow as quickly as possible, Facebook did whatever it could to strip out sources of friction: the product would be free and the business would avoid regulation, thus also avoiding a need for transparency in its algorithms that might invite criticism.

Unfortunately, while these were the right conditions for growth of a global superstar, they were also conditions that bred a disregard for user privacy, safety and civic responsibility.

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