US network ABC aired an exclusive interview with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg last week on its morning show Good Morning America. And instead of asking Zuckerberg tough questions, interviewer George Stephanopoulos lobbed softball after softball so that Zuck could deliver his prepared talking points.
“Is the big message from you right now, Facebook gets it, we’re gonna change?” Stephanopoulos asked in a question that wasn’t even a question.
Zuck responded with Facebook’s usual talking points about how they’re working on changing things for the better. No surprises there.
Why the hell should we care what Facebook’s message is, exactly? That’s supposed to come out naturally in the interview. A good interview consists of someone asking a person in power a tough question, and then the person in power answering with their message. After that, the interviewer is supposed to call out any bullshit and ask a follow-up that holds their feet to the fire. None of that happened during this morning’s public relations blitz.
Zuckerberg said that Facebook wanted to, “amplify the good things that people do and to mitigate and remove as much of the negative as possible.”
Got it? More good things, fewer bad things. Hard-hitting stuff.
When asked about government regulation of social media, something that Facebook has now advocated for in an op-ed for the Washington Post, Zuck had more robotic talking points to get out there.
“Well, I’ve spent most of the last few years trying to address these major social issues that we find ourselves at the centre of, so everything from policing harmful content, to preventing election interference, to making sure that we have strong data controls in place,” Zuckerberg said. “And I’m proud of the progress that we’ve made. There’s a lot more to do. But we’ve made a lot of progress over the last couple of years.”
Asked how surprised he was by blowback Facebook has received over the last couple of years, Mark Zuckerberg tells @GStephanopoulos, "More surprised than I should have been." https://t.co/LNasAPhlDS pic.twitter.com/EAWOSQLP4U
— ABC News (@ABC) April 4, 2019
Zuck concluded that Facebook has done all it can by cracking down on foreign political ads but insisted that the government needs to step in and define everything because, as he puts it, “one of the things that’s unclear is, actually, what is the definition of a political ad, right? And that’s a really fundamental question for this.”
Stephanopoulos also asked Zuckerberg about the recent revelations that Facebook user data for 540 million accounts was found out in the open on Amazon cloud servers by saying, “Are we gonna keep seeing surprises like this?” and failing to ask how that information got there in the first place.
“I just saw that,” Zuckerberg said. “So we’re still looking into this. In general, we work with developers to make sure that they’re respecting people’s information and using it in only ways that they want.”
What role Facebook has in protecting that data? Questions like that were never asked.
Stephanopoulos also asked about whether social media “has made acts of extreme violence more prevalent.” This should be an important question in the wake of the Christchurch, New Zealand massacre where a terrorist killed 50 people in two mosques and livestreamed the attack on Facebook for 17 minutes. But Zuck really isn’t sold on the idea that his platform encourages extremism.
“It’s hard to say,” Zuckerberg said. “I think that that’s going to be something that’s studied for a long time. I certainly haven’t seen data that would suggest that it has.”
“And I think that the hope is that by giving everyone a voice, you’re creating a broader diversity of views that people can have out there and that even if sometimes that surfaces some ugly views, I think that the Democratic tradition that we have is that you want to get those issues on the table, so that way, you can deal with them.”
Rather than ask Zuckerberg about the privacy invasions that have resulted in bad press for Facebook, Stephanopoulos decided to lob another softball over the plate and asked, “How surprised were you by the hits Facebook took?” Zuck responded that he was surprised because he’s such an “idealistic” person.
The interview ended with Zuckerberg getting asked about screen time for his daughters, giving Zuck the opportunity to explain how great it is that he’s able to communicate with his kids when he’s travelling. He even pivoted into a bizarre tangent about how social media is actually making us healthier.
“So right now, there’s a lot of research that shows that when people are using the internet and social networks to really interact and connect with other people, then that’s a positive thing, right?” Zuckerberg said. “And it is associated with all of the positive aspects of well-being that you’d expect, more happiness over time, feeling more connected, less lonely, even, potentially, better health, over time.”
— Good Morning America (@GMA) April 4, 2019
One area that didn’t get mentioned: Facebook’s complicity in genocide in Myanmar. As Gizmodo reported last week, United Nations investigators are frustrated with Facebook’s refusal to do more to combat the problem. You’d think that Stephanopoulos might ask one question about that whole genocide thing, at least.
Maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on Stephanopoulos since his regular beat is politics, but that may explain why Facebook’s PR team decided this was a safe interview for Zuckerberg. But it doesn’t take a tech expert to ask basic questions about the ways in which Facebook has made society worse. And there’s nothing more political right now than the rise of tech.
Facebook, along with its other platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram, has been charged with housing discrimination, has asked new users for their passwords on other platforms, and helps spread racist violence around the world. And that’s just in the past two weeks!
Social media has given a voice to the most extreme elements of our garbage world and that’s no accident. The outrage and hate are the product. Zuckerberg may not personally like that since he’s an “idealist” but he’s built a platform that encourages the worst in humanity.
Anger creates “engagement” and engagement is simply more time spent on a platform like Facebook to potentially see ads. And those ads are what fuels the largest tech companies in the world.
Twitter gets a lot of shit for spreading extremism, but at least Jack Dorsey has done adversarial interviews where he’s asked real questions about the harm Twitter has caused. Zuckerberg, on the other hand, gets to talk to Good Morning America about how he’s trying really hard and they’re going to do better. One of these days. [ABC News]
Featured image: Screenshot: ABC News