Facebook Critic Roger McNamee Says the Social Network Still Isn’t Doing Enough to Protect its Users

Roger McNamee at his Book Signing Following his Talk at SXSW

In an ironic twist, Roger McNamee, author of Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe, is taking out ads on Facebook to sell his book.

“This is guerilla warfare,” McNamee said.

Facebook is a powerful social network and his book exposes the flaws in the social network and Facebook is also a way to get his message out there, McNamee said.

That’s one of the revelations from a Keynote discussion Sunday afternoon at South by Southwest Interactive between McNamee and Nicholas Thompson, editor in chief of Wired magazine.

McNamee, an early investor in Facebook and mentor to its Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has since become one of the company’s biggest

critics.

His book hit store shelves last month and has already become a New York Times bestseller.

McNamee said he warned Zuckerberg years ago about the misuse of the platform by bad actors and how the social network could be used to do harm to society. But Zuckerberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg didn’t take him seriously. They thought of his concerns as more of a public relations problem than something that was detrimental to the company or its users.

McNamee said that since Facebook has found out about people misusing its platform to promote fake news and influence U.S. elections, the steps the company has taken have not been enough.

“Facebook historically has behaved like it’s ok to apologize and go back to do what it was doing before,” McNamee said.

But that game plan doesn’t work like it did for the first 15 years of the company, he said.

“The scale that they operate at makes their mistakes greater,” McNamee said.

While few could have predicted that the Russians would interfere in the U.S. election by planting fake news through ads on the Facebook platform to manipulate voters, once the evidence was out, Facebook continued its obfuscation, McNamee said. Facebook continued to deflect and deny any responsibility, he said. Facebook claimed it was a platform and not a media company, he said.

“Once the public loses trust, you’re screwed,” McNamee said.

McNamee said he still has Facebook and Instagram accounts.

“If you’re going to write a book about Facebook and Instagram, you have to have an account about Facebook and Instagram,” he said.

McNamee also didn’t sell his Facebook stock.

“If the stock went down, I felt it was appropriate for me to take a hit,” McNamee said. “I’m not the perfect messenger for this message.”

But McNamee felt like he had to get the story out, he said. The message isn’t just about Facebook.

“This is a problem that is endemic in a world where the business model is about tracking human beings and using it for steering them,” McNamee said.

Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are being used to manipulate human behavior and people haven’t had discussions about how this technology is being used and where it is going, he said.

What people do on the web is tracked by everybody, he said.

All these business models have been developed behind a curtain and the general public didn’t know that was going on, McNamee said.

“We don’t want behavioral modification by companies to be part of our world,” he said.

McNamee also supports Presidential Candidate and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to break up the large social networks like Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, and Google, which owns YouTube.

Warren spoke Saturday at SXSW. She also proposed breaking up Google and Amazon in addiiton to Facebook.

McNamee said he went to Google a year ago and proposed that they spin off YouTube

“Like Facebook, they were not too interested in my idea,” he said.

McNamee said his book is about his journey of discovery. He said he is like the actor Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. He just saw a crime scene and pulls on a thread to reveal complex systems that are being used as filter bubbles and to persuade people to think a certain thing.

Technology can be great for society, McNamee said. The industry needs to go back to Steve Job’s vision of bicycles for the mind. Technology should empower people, it should not manipulate them, he said.

For example, McNamee said recruiting apps, powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, are biased against women and people of color. They can be programmed to comb through resumes to identify white and Asian males between the ages of 18 and 35, he said.

Apple is not perfect, McNamee said. The company has had supply chain problems, he said. But what Apple is doing around protecting personal privacy is important.

McNamee doesn’t think Zuckerberg’s manifesto to make Facebook a better place and to protect people’s privacy, goes far enough. Last Thursday, Zuckerberg posted a 5,700-word letter on his Facebook page detailing his plans to make Facebook a better community. McNamee called the move a PR stunt. To really change, Facebook must change its business model, he said.

But Facebook isn’t the only big tech company that has him worried.

“I am much more worried today about Google, Microsoft and Amazon than Facebook,” McNamee said. “Because Facebook has been clumsy enough to get caught, the others have not.”