Mark Zuckerberg has both a champion and a critic in Roger McNamee.
For some of the formative years in the Facebook CEO's early career, the famed investor served as a mentor. For the past few, McNamee has been a thorn in Zuckerberg’s side.
An early Facebook ($FB) investor through the now-defunct private equity firm Elevation Partners, McNamee has been a leading critic of the spread of misinformation on the platform and upper management's negligence to stop it.
When reports first surfaced that Russian actors exploited the platform to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election results, McNamee penned op-eds for USA Today and later The Washington Post that called on Facebook to apologize for its addictive, easily-manipulated platform and take action to prevent future abuses.
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandals several months later, McNamee played to the media circuit, appearing on cable TV networks and NPR’s “All Things Considered,” to discuss how Facebook mishandled the drama.
But McNamee’s latest shot across Facebook’s bow came in the form of his new book, “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe."
McNamee has said he’s spoken out so strongly against Facebook because he feels "guilty" about the monster he helped to create, and wants to do everything he can to tame it — the monster being Facebook, not Zuckerberg.
During an intimate discussion on Wednesday promoting his book at Betaworks Studios in New York City, McNamee had few negative words to say about Zuckerberg.
During the conversation, which came just one day after his Facebook book was released, McNamee described the billionaire tech mogul as a “brilliant person,” with “unusually good listening skills” who “obviously was very thoughtful.” Zuckerberg has clearly made some mistakes, but McNamee is convinced he is “one good night's sleep away” from being on the right side of history.
Others have laid blame on the shoulders of Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg for many of Facebook's faults. While Zuckerberg owns the majority of Facebook’s voting shares, McNamee insists it’s the company's business model that's to blame, while acknowledging, “Mark has the moral authority to change the business model.”
“My problem is not with social networking ... it's with a business model that doesn't treat us as human beings, it treats us as a metric,” McNamee said. “They say in advertising, you are not the customer you are the product. For Facebook and Google, you are not even the product. You are the fuel.”
"Traditionally, marketers gather data to make products and services better for the customer. Nobody gathers data to make the product better for the fuel,” he added.
"We take criticism seriously. Over the past two years, we've fundamentally changed how we operate to better protect the safety and security of people using Facebook. The reality is Roger McNamee hasn’t been involved with Facebook for a decade,” Facebook said in a statement.
It's a sinister proposition, but one that’s catching on — the idea that users are there to generate the data that keeps digital advertising companies like Facebook running. But McNamee's worldview ー and view of Zuckerberg ー appears fundamentally optimistic. It’s the same sort of outlook that informs his decision to refrain from blocking anyone on social media.
"I've never blocked anybody on social media. Not once. I've wanted to," McNamee said.
That optimism doesn't come without action.
McNamee is calling upon legislators to take antitrust measures to encourage competition by breaking up the monopolistic grip that Facebook and Google have on social media and advertising. He has also called on users to exercise their own will to make better choices about which platforms they use, how they engage on those platforms, and how frequently. He even calls on tech innovators to return to Apple ($AAPL) founder Steve Jobs’ lofty goal of using technology as “bicycles for the mind, to empower humans instead of taking away what makes them unique.”
McNamee pleaded for Zuckerberg to get some sleep, so to speak. But he never called for him to step down. Through McNamee's rose-tinted glasses, with the right mix of moral decision-making and regulation, Facebook can and will finish on the right side of history.