I can imagine that for someone like Mark Zuckerberg, having to jump on a video meeting with members of Congress to answer questions about how your platform is sowing misinformation is quite an inconvenience. That the reason for the meeting in the first place is because those members of Congress would very much like to pass laws to regulate your business makes it even more so.
Even under the best-case scenario, Congress would like to score some political points while making an example of you and your business. I imagine that under those circumstances, it can be easy to let your frustration show. It might even feel beneath you to have to show up and explain things to people who clearly don’t understand your business or the complex issues related to technology platforms, or even just the internet in general.
Watching the hearing, it’s clear why most people don’t like tech CEOS–most of them come across like they think they’re much smarter than everyone else in the room. The thing is, that may very well be true, but no one likes the person who shows up to the meeting thinking they are smarter than everyone else.
Everyone understands that the three men who testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee are extremely smart individuals. Except, when you’re that smart, you don’t have to act like everyone else isn’t just to make a point.
It’s really bad form under any circumstances, but especially when “everyone else,” at least in this case, collectively have the power to pass laws that directly affect your business. When your business is as unpopular–at least among politicians–as Facebook, a little humility would go a long way.
The mistake too many leaders make is thinking that being right is enough. Just because you’re smart enough to give the right answers, when testifying before Congress, no one asking the questions is interested in that. Mostly, they’re interested in making a point.
Usually, that point is something like “these people have too much power, and it’s bad for the people we represent so we should do something.” You don’t earn yourself any points by making yourself even less likable.
Of course, there’s another reason that people don’t like Tech CEOs, and in one answer, Zuckerberg gave us a perfect example. In a question from Representative Jan Schakowsky regarding the spread of misinformation leading up to the riot at the Capitol on January 6, she asked Mr. Zuckerberg, “would you admit that Facebook played a role?”
“Congresswoman, certainly I think there was content on our services,” Mr. Zuckerberg responded. “From that perspective, I think there is further work we need to do to make our services and moderation more effective.”
There are really two problems with this answer.
The first is obvious–everyone thinks that Facebook played a role. It seems like Zuckerberg The company’s algorithm amplified misinformation and divisive content, putting it in front of the people who were most likely to respond in the way they did on January 6.
Second, Zuckerberg’s response isn’t even an answer to the question Rep. Schakowsky asked. Instead, he reverts to the passive voice, saying “there was content on our services,” but denying that Facebook should be responsible in any way for either the content or what happened.
In both cases, Zuckerberg is refusing to accept responsibility. It’s as though the company he leads–which affects the daily lives of almost 3 billion people–is an innocent bystander that is powerless to stop incendiary content even if it wanted to.
Except, and I go back to the first problem, we all know it isn’t. We all know that the main reason Facebook hasn’t stopped the spread of misinformation on its platform is that doing so would be very costly to the bottom line.
The same, by the way, is true for you. Maybe not the part about the misinformation, but definitely the part about how costly it is–especially in terms of your credibility–when you refuse to accept responsibility.