Data Sheet—Mark Zuckerberg’s Truth Problem

September 11, 2018, 2:22 PM UTC

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Truth plays a starring role in Evan Osnos’ thorough profile of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the New Yorker, published yesterday. There is a brief appearance of the regrettable private message that Zuckerberg, then 19 years old, sent to a friend about users of his new service: “They ‘trust me.’ Dumb fucks.” There is the uncomfortable truth that private-life Zuckerberg, now 34, isn’t quite what his public image projects—a contrast that “reminded me of Hillary Clinton,” the author writes. And there is, of course, the Russian election interference and Cambridge Analytica scandals that put Facebook’s top executives in hot water for not being truthful about what happened, when, and how.

But the detail that leaves the largest impression is Zuckerberg’s personal relationship with the truth. Given his lofty position at Facebook, “it is difficult for him to get genuine, unexpurgated feedback” from employees, Osnos writes. What’s more, the CEO’s “unwillingness to heed warnings,” his college hacker mentality long hardened, has made any efforts to “puncture his own bubble,” in Osnos’ words, less than, well, truthful.

It’s a funny turn of phrase, come to think of it. Zuckerberg has long worked in a glass rectangle—a fishbowl of a sort—at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters. The gesture is meant to convey the CEO’s radical transparency, but to me, it has long communicated the opposite. The bubble boy behind “Move fast and break things” rarely wanted to shatter his own barrier in pursuit of truth, however disagreeable. Somewhere along the way to becoming a Fortune 500 media executive, Osnos notes, Zuckerberg began to see virtue in rejecting complaints. “There’s always someone who wants to slow you down,” Zuckerberg said in a commencement address at Harvard last year.

Here’s the thing about the facts, though: they are stabilizing. Though Zuckerberg, a Roman history buff, has chosen his approach—“Like Augustus, he is at peace with his trade-offs. Between speech and truth, he chose speech,” Osnos writes—he should be wise to remember how that story ends: with Nero, a great fire, and a fabled fiddle.


Justice by Algorithm: Civil rights groups hailed California's decision to eliminate cash bail, which many believe creates perverse incentives. But the state's recent move to use algorithms to inform bail decisions has created new concerns over lack of transparency, and implicit racial bias.

Google vs the EU in court today: The latest legal showdown between the two antagonists turns on whether regulators can force Google to implement the so-called "right to be forgotten" on a world-wide basis. Google argues orders to delist search links should only apply to European versions of its site.

EU copyright creep: The European Parliament plans to vote on Wednesday on a controversial plan to expand copyright in a manner that would force the likes of Google and Facebook to negotiate payments for "digital use" of news media. Critics deride the plan as a "link tax" and warn it will hobble startups and small publishers.

Citigroup cracks the crypto code: The banking giant is poised to make cryptocurrency accessible to many investors who would otherwise be barred from owning the stuff. Its solution is to offer something akin to an "American depositary receipt," which is a system banks have long used to allow investors to own foreign stocks.

Endangered animals on Facebook: A watchdog group that tracks endangered wildlife reports more than 1,500 listings of live animals for sale in Thailand, including the Siamese crocodile. The listings were found on 12 different Facebook groups over one month.


The phenomenon of lynching is not new in India but, in yet another example of social media turbo-charging violence, WhatsApp is exacerbating the problem. A BuzzFeed investigation explores an incident of villagers beating five transients to death after a widely-shared WhatsApp video warned of strangers coming for their children. WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook don't appear to have a handle on the problem:

Therein lies the problem for WhatsApp, which, like many internet-connected platforms, has repeatedly argued that it should not be responsible for the content its users distribute. Founded in 2009 by Jan Koum and Brian Acton and acquired by Facebook in 2014, WhatsApp has focused on building tools to allow people to share information securely and quickly, while strongly opposing the notion that it should moderate what its users share.


Winkelvoss Twins Win Approval for Dollar-Backed Cryptocurrency By Robert Hackett

Apple Stock Slips as Trump Calls Out Company Before iPhone Event By Kevin Kelleher

Snap Shares Tumble Over News of Top Executive's Departure By Don Reisinger

Political Divisions Widen When Users Find Opposing Views on Twitter By Don Reisinger

Nearly Half of American Households Will Own a Smart Speaker by 2019 By Chris Morris


Lox her up. On Monday afternoon, the chatter in New York City was not money or tech or fashion. Instead, the Twitterati collectively flipped out over a decision by gubernatorial candidate (and former Sex and the City star) Cynthia Nixon to order lox, onions and capers on a cinnamon raisin bagel. Gross.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Jeff John Roberts. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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