Hey Facebook, where’s your mates at?


In the Zuckermath of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, Facebook’s Silicon Valley counterparts are distancing themselves, and that’s more significant than mere gossip. Facebook’s ability to deal with data has been revealed as flawed and, let’s be honest, no one is surprised. In fact it would be surprising if, in ten years time, a company like Google does not come unstuck amid a similar form of defenestration.

Among the tumult it’s interesting to note who is sticking by Facebook and who is not. The tech giant has become famous for not responding to media inquiries and, if they do feel the need to, doing so in very stilted form. So us mere users are often none the wiser about who Mark Zuckerberg really is. It seems that most are agreed that he is not someone motivated by a lust for cash, nor someone tempted by the limelight. He is perhaps guilty of youth, in comparison to the counterpart CEOs running Silicon Valley’s Finest he is far younger and seems yet to shake the sense of invincibility so characteristic of youth. The “what could possibly go wrong?” mentality seems too strong with that one.

The company – and CEO – now having to make decisions about how to run free and fair elections in a situation no constitution or regulation has ever mandated for is one short on life experience. Given that we have few public statements to go on (which says something in and of itself) we’re left searching for proxies which imply who “Zuck” is. In any case, we’re still looking at someone who is generally not considered a money-hungry capitalist. And all Silicon Valley CEOs are, one suspects, people who would like to focus on making awesome products but recognise that in doing so they also have to earn revenue; their sensibilities are pulled akimbo by the forces they operate under.

It’s no accident that Facebook’s and Google’s revenue model is similar (data advertising) given that Zuckerberg poached Sheryl Sandberg from Google in order to monetise a platform he had no interest in monetising beyond being able to keep it functioning. And thus, in the wake of Zuckermath, Google are one of the few Silicon Valley Big Dogs not decrying Facebook’s mistakes. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, has, when questioned as to what he’d do in Zuckerberg’s situation, said “I wouldn’t be in this situation”. Coupled with Elon Musk’s deletion of SpaceX’s Facebook accounts followed by him tweeting:

It’s telling, somehow, that Musk and Cook are distancing themselves from the situation. The question is whether they see this as a general misunderstanding of the way tech works, its revenue pressures and a misconception of the way data needs to be used in the future; whether it’s just a chance to get one up on Zuck, which implies they have no loyalty to their “brother in arms” – which could be because of the pressures of competition or because they think he’s not acting honourably; or whether they are just among the CEOs whose business models are not similar to Zuckerbergs – note Google’s is quite.

In any case, these are the questions to ask, the questions which need answering as events shortly unfold and the questions which we should all look to muster an answer for when faced with the upcoming headlines.

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Ben Allen is a traveller, a millennial and a Brit. He worked in the London startup world for a while but really prefers commenting on it than working in it. He has huge faith in the tech industry and enjoys talking and writing about the social issues inherent in its development. Find him on Twitter @benjijamesallen

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