I have had this idea for an opinion piece for years, and I think it’s time that I finally put it into place.
My friends, I put before you a humble idea: Facebook should have Mark Zuckerberg retire as CEO, and give the job to our 44th president, Barack Obama.
Facebook has many issues. They willingly censored content to appease the Turkish military, which, and I quote, Sheryl Sandberg said she was “fine with.” Every week they have some sort of new privacy scandal. They literally shut off sharing news in Australia due to a standoff with the government, and in the process managed to wipe the pages of hospitals, charities and government organizations. Zuckerberg’s soulless, damp stare rarely seems to fall on conservative figures and press, and nobody likes him no matter how much money he puts into causes. Austin Carr put together a great piece about how Zuckerberg just can’t seem to get the public’s trust, and people are simply leaving the Facebook platforms, mostly because of all the dumb shit that Facebook keeps doing.
The problems are manifold, and part of the issue is that Facebook’s public presence feels cold and robotic, kind of like Mark Zuckerberg, a guy who genuinely looks like an alien in a human suit trying to do a human impression. Facebook hired former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg as their head of global policy and communications, which felt almost as if they wanted to find another alien who was a little better at doing human impressions to mentor Zuckerberg on how often to blink or lick his lips. Sheryl Sandberg is a little better at communicating, but still has to deal with the fact that she oversaw basically every single piece of shit move that Facebook saw without actually addressing them in any substantive fashion, and, frankly, is only marginally more charming than Clegg is.
And, thematically, both Zuckerberg and Sandberg are old guard. Facebook likely should be treated like a utility, but also needs a figurehead that people, by and large, actually like, who is both able to have emotional conversations with people and, frankly, actually be able to talk to heads of state about Facebook. Facebook has grown to a point that it isn’t just a company anymore - it’s a part of society in such a way that it can affect the future of society, and thus needs a steward who can do so. It needs a leader who can be both a politician - as Facebook is basically a rogue nation that somehow has citizens from all over the world - and also handle it like a public-facing business versus a continuing series of experiments on human beings. They need someone that is both fresh to the company - able to lead it away from its racial bias and continual public failures and make people feel like there’s an actual human running it, rather than the robot from Men In Black that has a little alien in the head.
That’s right. I’m talking about Barack Obama.
Now, ah, let me be clear and make a blanket statement: this is not about Barack Obama’s presidential record, Obama being a good person, or indeed anything other than The Person Who Would Run Facebook The Best At This Time. And I fully believe that person is Barack Obama.
Right now Facebook’s issues are a combination of a few things:
- A culture of experimentation with humanity - trying to find out if X will lead to Y, with Y meaning more money and X usually involve fucking with their users, who are ultimately the product at Facebook.
- A complete inability to communicate in a way that does anything other than confuse and irritate people.
- They are totally and utterly unlikeable. Despite being a company that billions of people use, that has several products that people truly adore (Instagram and WhatsApp, though they’re working on making us dislike them), Facebook is just so gross.
- When they do communicate about stuff, it’s almost impossible to believe anything they’ve done because the rot is from the top - there is no avoiding the history of Facebook, and there is no reconciling with it as long as Zuckerberg is in charge.
Barack Obama is an orator, a businessman and a lawyer. He is arguably the most popular democrat. He’s incredibly well liked by the mainstream media, is remembered fondly by a lot of people, and yes, while conservatives hate him, they likely hate him less than Mark Zuckerberg. And he’ll be able to deal with the whole “a democrat runs Facebook” thing with the same milquetoast bipartisanship he did before. That, and when Ted Cruz calls him up to speak before the senate, he’s going to respond in a way that’s fit for TV, that will make Facebook look and sound good, and make it sound - even if they don’t! - like Facebook actually gives a shit.
It’ll also be really useful if Facebook actually wants to make a change to their awful internal culture. Having someone who isn’t of the valley run the company will help internally rebrand the standards that Facebook looks for - and likely usher in an era of significantly more empathy than now, which isn’t necessarily a large amount, but will be proportionally higher than Facebook seems to have right now.
A clear part of my argument is that Facebook needs both an internal and external rebrand, and a lot of the problems with their current brand are tied to their extremely obvious evil acts. On the other hand, they also need someone to lead the company who is specifically not a tech person, as Facebook has reached a point that it is, frankly, not really a tech company, despite treating itself as one.
Facebook has become something entirely different to everything else - a sovereign nation that has data on and can influence half the planet, that makes 85 billion dollars a year by tacitly manipulating humanity, that has no clear mission statement other than “we are Facebook,” and no real brand other than “we are Facebook.” It’s a pachinko board of different advertisements and products and groups and horrible, horrible consequences to throwing people in an insufficiently moderated digital primordial soup, and Facebook has not and does not seem that concerned about the monster it has become. It’s more than not taking problems seriously - it’s a rot from the top and the insides, all based on the fact that Facebook is treating itself like a tech company, fixing things entirely logically. Products are made and then introduced with the same cold, clammy hands that started RateMyNudes.Biz back in Harvard, and every move is made as if Facebook is purely a software product rather than a social product.
What they need is someone who can make both internal and external strides to change the way that Facebook is perceived and what Facebook is. No, I am not suggesting that Barack Obama is going to start coding, but neither did Dara Khosrowshahi when he joined as Uber’s CEO.
What Facebook needs ultimately is a President, and to treat itself like a country, and, on some level, it needs to be run less like a company and more like a nation. Facebook deliberately or otherwise has become a part of society, and needs to be treated as and treat itself in that manner, creating products that don’t actively harm its users, because the unintended consequences of something Facebook does usually lead to really, really bad stuff.
I think Barack Obama can be the person who guides them in this direction - that publicly guides them away from being a 2.8 billion person social experiment and toward an actual platform of unity and, dare I say it, social good. He can make the speeches he needs to rally the company’s employees behind this message, be seen as a firm steward when he ousts people “in the name of change,” and deal with things like military companies on Facebook like a world leader rather than a CEO. No, I do not think that the entire company should be filled with political figures, no, I do not think it should resemble a government, but I do believe it needs to be led and treated like some sort of non-profit-utility-nation hybrid - a freakish creature, just like its founder.
Thank you for reading my blog.