“They think it’s over”: Zuckerberg’s former mentor says Facebook will get away with everything

Roger McNamee has little faith in Facebook.
Roger McNamee has little faith in Facebook.
Image: Steven Purcell for Quartz
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Roger McNamee, a prominent tech investor and onetime mentor to Mark Zuckerberg, has little faith that Facebook will fix itself. “They think it’s over,” he said at an event organized by Quartz in Washington, DC on April 26.

The company is self-assured after Mark Zuckerberg’s good-enough performance in Congress, he said. “They are really confident. They didn’t need the earnings report,” he added, referring to Facebook’s stellar results for the first quarter of 2018, which the company posted on Wednesday. Signs of the Cambridge Analytica scandal were nowhere to be seen in Facebook’s financial results, which beat Wall Street expectations.

As an early investor in Facebook, McNamee’s described his involvement with the company as the “crowning achievement of his long career.” He’s since grown so disillusioned with the platform, and disappointed in Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, that he called the past 12 months “the most depressing of his life.”

“Every part of this has made me sadder and sadder and sadder. I feel like my baby has turned out to be something horrible, and these people I trusted and helped along have forgotten where they came from,” he said in a conversation with Kevin Delaney, Quartz’s editor-in-chief.

McNamee has become an outspoken critic of the company, comparing its role in the 2016 US election to “the plot of a sci-fi novel” while at the same time admitting that he has “profited enormously” by backing Facebook early on. The organization he helped found, the Center for Humane Technology, has made it a mission to expose Facebook’s multiple flaws, and to try to fix them.

It’s likely that Facebook is “going to get away with” the bad things it’s done, McNamee said. This is particularly dangerous because of the upcoming 2018 midterm elections in the US. “They’ve done bupkis to protect us,” he added.

His stark realization, he said, was that Facebook’s detrimental effects on society—social media addiction, the spread of misinformation—are not incidental, but a matter of “design and goal.” He shares this view with several other prominent voices once associated with Facebook.

He believes the company’s goal is only to get bigger and bigger. “They are totally focused on growth, nothing else matters,” he said. It’s been “move fast, break things, apologize, repeat, from day one.”

It’s not just about the money, McNamee said, comparing his former protégé to a cult leader. “Zuckerberg believes he’s given the world a massive gift,” he said, and the mentality at the company remains focused on becoming “the most important thing in the world.”