A couple people seem to be scoffing at our old friend and current Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow for his comment about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
WALLACE: Does the president want to see Washington regulate how Facebook uses its users’ data, what it does with its users’ data and also how it screens ads?
KUDLOW: Look, I think the president right now will be intently watching the congressional hearings. I think that’s going to be step number one. I think he has his doubts whether Facebook has violated protocols, I don’t know. We will see. I wish Mr. Zuckerberg — I hope he comes to Congress wearing a nice business suit and shirt and tie, so he will be taken more seriously.
WALLACE: Not a t-shirt?
KUDLOW: Right, I’m tired of that t-shirt, hoody stuff. He does run one of the largest corporations of the world, for heaven’s sakes.
Scoff if you want, but there’s clearly a not-so-subtle symbolism in Zuckerberg’s general refusal to dress and look the part of a businessman and, some like Peggy Noonan might argue, a grown man. She writes this weekend, “He, too, appears to have difficulties coming to terms with who he is. Perhaps he hopes to keep you, too, from coming to terms with it, by literally dressing as a child, in T-shirts, hoodies and jeans – soft clothes, the kind 5-year-olds favor.”
If you listen to Zuckerberg describe his company, he almost never describes it as a business; he talks about “building connections” and “helping people connect” and “building stronger communities.” It’s as if it’s just a happy coincidence that all of this effort to “help people connect” just happened to generate $40 billion in revenue in 2017.
Zuckerberg’s casual attire, informal style, endless apologies claiming naïveté, and youthful looks are all meant to convey the message, “hey, we’re not like other companies.” And many people are now shouting back, “yes, you are.”
As I wrote late last year, for a long time the Big Four (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google) could shrug and emphasize that they were platforms, not content creators — technology companies, not media companies. They could argue that they were the modern equivalent of technicians running the printing press or the broadcast equipment, not editors determining the headlines on the front page or anchors making statements behind the news desk. They could shift blame to somebody else if the substance of what they brought to the audience was vile, false, or execrable. Except, whether they like it or not, they now are media companies, deciding what is worthy of a public audience and not, with all of the responsibilities that entails.
Facebook is not a cool, hip start-up, where users will accept occasional slip-ups in exchange for something new or groundbreaking. It’s been around for 14 years, has $84 billion in assets, more than 25,000 employees, and is the third-most popular web site on the planet behind Google and YouTube, and probably represents the most extensive collection of data on individuals ever assembled. It makes the National Security Agency look like your public library’s old card catalog. Zuckerberg has to stop trying to pose like some naïve fresh-out-of-college wunderkind and acknowledge that he and his company asked for and received great power, and not handling it with great responsibility.