The discussion around Mark Zuckerberg's supposed "meltdown" at the D8 conference has been disgusting. Here's the CEO and controller of the board for the most popular site on the Internet, a site with more users than there are citizens in the United States, and almost every headline reads the same.
"Zuckerberg . . . Sweats"
Sweat. Sweat?! Are you kidding me? The media should be ashamed. My High School newspaper (of which I was editor-in-chief for my Junior year, no applause), wouldn't have run a headline so juvenile. We're making fun of the guy because he sweats? Shame.
Mark Zuckerberg sweats a lot. It's okay. It's a physical thing, he probably can't help it. I'm sure he hates it, too. I'm sure the last thing he wanted everyone at D8 to focus on was his sweat.
The Wall Street Journal, on Digits blog: ". . . They Say Genius is 99% Perspiration."
MSNBC's Technotica site: "Zuckerberg sweats Facebook questions at D8"
Even the New York Times gets in on the action. Sure, the headline: "Zuckerberg on the Hot Seat" might be more subtle than the rest, but the author, Miguel Helft, goes on for the next two paragraphs to describe how Zuckerberg had to take off his hoodie because he was sweating so much. This came before any mention of privacy issues, dodging questions, or other legitimate, interesting concerns.
The thing is, Zuckerberg just sweats. It wasn't the line of questioning. It might be his reaction to being a public persona. I wouldn't know, I've never hung out with him in private (or in public). But before D8, it was fairly well known that Mark Zuckerberg sweats. His sweating was reported when he spoke at South by Southwest in 2008, before the Facebook narrative had turned ugly.
Now, though, his sweating is being used against him. It's being used to imply that he's hiding something, he's nervous. He's shifty. If Zuckerberg had Tourette's syndrome, would the New York Times spend its first two paragraphs discussing his symptoms? Of course not, that would be horribly insensitive.
I don't believe the media has a liberal bias, but I do believe it has a literary bias. That is, the media likes to tell a good story. A good story has ups and downs. There are heroes who become villains, surprises around every bend. You can see this not only in technology and consumer electronics, but also in sports reporting, politics, everywhere. If a character has been too successful for too long, the audience will lose interest, so he's vilified.
Facebook became too big, too quickly to construct a proper narrative. It was time for a backlash. So, what was the backlash about? Well, there were the privacy concerns, but these were something of a red herring. The problem with Facebook wasn't that it lacked any sense of privacy, the problem is that the privacy controls were difficult to use, and so it was easy to reveal too much without realizing. Facebook's problem is that privacy is an opt-in option; by default you're sharing everything. But if you spent some quality time with the settings menus, you could fine-tune your privacy to your liking, even before the recent changes.
Besides, as I've said before, there are some things you just shouldn't share on Facebook. Like, well, everything. Anything you wouldn't want the world to see, you shouldn't share on the Internet.
So what is the problem with Mark Zuckerberg? Robert Scoble writes a bizarre column for Business Insider where he basically says that Zuckerberg should both step down as CEO, and also tell off Scoble himself. What's reason #1 why Scoble thinks Zuckerberg should step down?
"He doesn’t enjoy it. If he did, he would be happier on stage and wouldn’t be sweating."
Scoble's next points completely contradict himself. He says Zuckerberg has a vision for a better society through openness. For this reason, Scoble says Zuckerberg should step down from the Executive Officer role and focus more on the technology. I see no logical connection between the two. Part of Zuckerberg's vision has always been to keep himself in power at Facebook, as Nicholas Carlson point out in another Business Insider story. There are numerous competing technologies at Facebook, from search to chat to the application platform. Zuckerberg clearly wants to helm the ship, not man the oars.
Scoble also says that Zuckerberg should be evaluated to see if he's doing more good or harm to the company. That's his final reason why Zuckerberg should step down, even after he's spent numerous paragraphs talking about all of Zuckerberg's remarkable succeses.
Therese Poletti at Market Watch gets the point even less. In her story on the D8 interview, Poletti spends her first four paragraphs talking about how uncomfortable Zuckerberg looked, and of course mentions the sweating. She calls him evasive and rambling, but never actually points to any specific problems he has caused. There's the privacy issue, and Poletti clearly wants Facebook to adopt the opt-in model that many pundits are calling for. But this choice to avoid opt-in privacy controls is a signature part of the Facebook experience. It isn't a mistake, it is precisely Zuckerberg's leadership style.
Most revealing is when Poletti takes Zuckerberg to task for not answering personal questions. She rightly points out the irony that the CEO of Facebook is reluctant to share personal info, but that reluctance comes on stage as he's grilled by two of tech journalism's most seasoned professionals. On his Facebook page, Zuckerberg shares more, though he's smart enough not to share too much. But you can get a sense of his personality, his sense of humor.
Worst of all the pundits is Jason Calacanis. Calacanis seems to have spent only a few hours on the Internet, because he makes suggestions for Zuckerberg that are so off base. He wants Facebook to add an export key, ignoring the entire trend and purpose of cloud storage. He wants a common "Like" standard, so that we could share across StumbleUpon, Digg, Delicious, and whoever else, ignoring the fact that all these sites are using their own proprietary 'Like' button standard. He wants Facebook to stop using its own currency. He brings up the privacy issue. Best of all, he wants Facebook to stop competing with other social networking sites (he calls this stealing to be melodramatic) and partner instead. Of course, and NBC should stop "stealing" Fox's ideas and partner with that network, instead. Sony should stop "stealing" Apple's ideas so they can band together. That's just foolish, indulgent logic.
Mark Zuckerberg has a clear vision for what he wants, both for his company and for the world. The company isn't public, and he controls a majority stake an the board of directors, so he isn't going against the will of his stockholders. He's been amazingly successful, exponentially more successful that any social network before him. He's making money, but he's also turning down billion dollar offers for buyouts, because he won't sell out his vision. So, why is everyone pouncing on him? Why call for his resignation?
He isn't good at public interviews. He's not coherent answering questions. He doesn't offer too many personal details.
But most of all, he sweats. It's unfortunate that so many pundits can't see beyond problems that are literally skin deep.
[Image credit: Craig Ruttle/associated press]