By· Margaret Sullivan
NEW YORK - Roger McNamee wants to give Mark Zuckerberg a chance to redeem himself.
Another chance, that is.
Perched on a low stage in a rehabbed industrial space in Lower Manhattan, McNamee - an early Facebook adviser - slams the way Facebook’s founder does business.
“Move fast, break things, apologize, repeat,” says McNamee, who looks boyish despite his black pinstriped suit and his 62 years.
“They’ve been doing it from Day One. It’s culturally built in.”
And that’s all a part of what he describes as the Silicon Valley way: “Ship the product and let the consumers find the bugs.”
Of course, with Facebook, the “bugs” have been more like democracy-destroying monsters. McNamee - a famed venture capitalist who still owns shares of Facebook - knows this full well.
But the pointed criticism of Zuckerberg and his chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg in his new book, “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe,” is meant to make things better, he says.
And, as McNamee told a crowd of 240 people on Wednesday evening at Betaworks, a tech incubator, he resists the idea that Zuckerberg and Sandberg should resign their posts over the company’s well-known disasters: its privacy breaches, its enabling of liars and haters, its help to Russian hackers. (As a New York Times Book Review of “Zucked” put it: “Considering the high likelihood that Russian activity on Facebook may have tipped the 2016 election to Donald Trump, the damage is already of generational measure.”)
Yet McNamee still has a modicum of faith in the Facebook founder and Sandberg, his top aide, drawing a laugh with his tepid vote of confidence: “I believe they are one good night’s sleep from getting this.”
And besides, he says, until Facebook’s rapacious business model changes - probably only as a result of much-needed government regulation - no new leadership would make a difference anyway.
He writes: “The business model depends on advertising, which in turn depends on manipulating the attention of users so they see more ads.
One of the best ways to manipulate attention is to appeal to outrage and fear, emotions that increase engagement.”
Facebook has responded consistently to McNamee’s takedown by pointing out he hasn’t had a meaningful role there for many years and the company has made strides on protecting consumers and otherwise cleaning up its act.
At the Betaworks book talk, CNN tech correspondent Laurie Segall - her documentary, “Facebook at 15: It’s Complicated,” airs Sunday night - read the canned response aloud.
Zuckerberg and McNamee were once fairly close, maybe even mentor and mentee.
At the very least, McNamee takes credit, though perhaps it should be seen as blame, for advising Zuckerberg not to sell the company early on.
Later, when he tried to warn them about what was happening in 2016 - his fear that bad actors were exploiting Facebook’s audience - he says they turned a deaf ear. And they haven’t spoken since.
In recent days, McNamee has been energetically flogging his book - on “Fox & Friends” one moment, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” another.
And in his travels, he preaches an anti-Facebook gospel: The value of getting out to meet people face to face, especially people you might not agree with.
“My whole thing is ‘let’s get together,’” says the man who describes himself as a former “tech nerd” who carried seven mobile devices. (McNamee, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area, is also the frontman of a roots-rock band, Moonalice, whose best-known song is “It’s 4:20 Somewhere,” and his venture capital firm, Elevation, boasted U2’s lead singer, Bono, as an early business partner.)
But despite the harsh criticism of Zuckerberg and Sandberg, and his disgust with the worst crimes of social media platforms, there are limits to his disdain.
McNamee not only still owns Facebook shares - the company posted record profits last month - he still counts himself among the behemoth’s more than two billion users.
The idea of his coming off Facebook altogether? Unthinkable, really.
After all, McNamee acknowledges with a shrug and a smile, “I’ve got a book to promote.”
Margaret Sullivan is The Washington Post’s media columnist.