“As I think about the future of the internet, I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today’s open platforms. Privacy gives people the freedom to be themselves and connect more naturally, which is why we build social networks.”
No sh*t, Mark Zuckerberg. And thanks for giving me the final slide for my fundraising deck.
We already felt “lucky” to be able to build a place for women to connect where their privacy is completely protected, they have access to sophisticated anonymity tools, and small private groups capped at twelve people—the optimum size for solving problems, if less optimum for advertisers to push consumer packaged goods on moms. Facebook—and the rest of social media, but mostly Facebook—had already made this job easier as it made women’s lives worse. According to a study we did with Survey Monkey: 88% of women witness mom shaming on Facebook, two-thirds see it frequently, and as a result only 4% of women will ask advice online.
We believe this is the single biggest reason our recent growth, engagement, and net promoter score have been so high and our churn has been so low. In a world where we obsess about what social media is doing badly, our core social object is something that women cannot do AT ALL on social media: Get advice on the hardest problems they face in a non-toxic environment.
Privacy is the core of that. You have no idea how many questions we get from investors that we don’t have the answers to. Because we don’t track you the way other ad-based social networks do. And when you go super anonymous, we don’t track you at all.
So, really, as much as Facebook has made life horrible for millions of women, it has been a gift to us. Now comes an even bigger gift: An articulation of why our business model and our philosophy is so vitally important to the future of social media.
Why is it a gift for Facebook to signal it’s going to be more like us? Because it won’t be. It can’t be. From a piece Paul wrote for Pando today:“So, no, Mark we don’t believe Facebook cares about privacy—and, based on all available evidence, you don’t believe it either. The notion that this time you might be willing to change your entire business model, your entire ethical core, is as ridiculous as the idea that you care about keeping women safe on your platform, or driving out hate, while hiring Kavanaugh apologists to your executive team and continuing to pander to right wing trolls.
Nor is the ‘pivot to privacy’ a harmless PR exercise like the time McDonald’s decided to put apple slices in happy meals to pretend it suddenly gave a shit about childhood obesity. Not least because in that case, McDonald’s actually did put apples in Happy Meals. If Zuck were the CEO of McDonald’s he’d simply cross out the word ‘cheeseburger’ from the box and write ‘apple’ above it in Sharpie. Then six month later, we’d find out that there was lead paint in the plastic toys and Ronald had sold out American democracy to the Hamburglar.”
I have followed Facebook earlier than almost any journalist—and my feelings about the companies and its leaders are complex. Paul and I have spent years arguing about the nuances of the company’s character, complicity, and intentions and we did again last night as he was writing his piece.
I don’t think the missteps are pure greed or pure evil, nor do I think they are as naive as they act when caught in scandal after scandal. I think they simply see the world a different way, and they still believe the way Facebook operates is net-good and we don’t yet get that.
But even when I was more of a fan of Mark Zuckerberg, I knew, he knew, we all knew his blindspot has always been privacy. I sat in the room with Zuckerberg just before he launched the News Feed. I marveled at the potential power of the feature, but asked him if he was concerned that it was too powerful. That people would be creeped out. He looked at me like I’d just sprouted 50 additional heads.
It simply didn’t compute and I don’t think it still does. If you speak with people senior and close to senior people at Facebook, you don’t hear regret at the state of Facebook in the world. You hear frustration. They feel more aggrieved than repentant. Roger McNamee, whose book Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe I heartily recommend, put it best to me: “They seem to feel like they’ve given the world a gift and the world still doesn’t appreciate that gift enough.”
Paul once said Evie cuddles like it’s something she’s read about in a book. Sure she’ll sling her arm around your neck, but it a way that puts you in a kindergarten headlock as she knees you in the side. That’s a bit how Mark Zuckerberg talks and thinks about privacy.
To wit: He already owned the exact thing he describes. It was called WhatsApp, and the founders quit and left money on the table because they clashed with his views about…privacy.
So thanks, Facebook, for calling privacy-first companies like Chairman Mom the future of social media and the Internet. Because we both know it’s not the future of Facebook.