Mark Zuckerberg’s mentor and an early investor in Facebook on why his book Zucked urges people to turn away from big tech’s toxic business model
Roger McNamee is an American fund manager and venture capitalist who has made investments in, among others, Electronic Arts, Sybase, Palm Inc and Facebook. In 2004, along with Bono and others, he co-founded Elevation Partners, a private equity firm. He has recently published Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.
What is your history with Facebook?
I’ve been a technology investor since 1982, and a tech optimist until very recently. I first met Mark Zuckerberg in 2006, when he was 22 years old and I was 50. Even at that time it was already obvious to me that Facebook would be as successful eventually as Google was at that time, which was to say spectacularly successful. He had broken the code on the two things that historically had undermined all network-based companies: he had required authenticated identity, and he had provided genuine control of privacy.
I thought that represented a staggering success. So I met him, and before he said anything I told him that I was afraid somebody was going to try to buy the company, they were going to pay a billion dollars and everybody was going to tell him to take the money. And I said, look, if you believe in your dream, I hope you’ll tell them no.
It turned out that the reason he was coming to see me was that a company had offered a billion dollars for Facebook and everyone had told him to accept it.
He wanted a chief operating officer and I suggested Sheryl Sandberg, and persuaded her to meet with Mark. He sold her on the company and they became a team.
When did you first realise that things had taken a turn for the worse?
In January 2016 I saw things coming out of Facebook groups ostensibly associated with the Bernie Sanders campaign. The stuff they were spreading was uniformly inappropriate, it was misogynistic, it was disinformation.
And then a month later, I saw a report that Facebook had expelled a company that was using its advertising tools to gather information about people interested in Black Lives Matter and selling that data to police departments. That was a massive violation of civil rights and just completely horrible.