Mark Zuckerberg may have been unwilling to reveal what D.C. hotel he is staying in this week, but he surely didn’t come to his Capitol Hill interrogation Tuesday expecting to enjoy a great deal of personal privacy. Whatever he was thinking, he somehow left the notes he brought with him laying out long enough for a journalist to snap a photo for all the world to see.
Photo of Zuck’s notes, by AP’s @andyharnik pic.twitter.com/wF0WAkDdI4
— Stefan Becket (@becket) April 10, 2018
Zuckerberg obviously came prepared. His notes cover how to respond to all kinds of questions, from substantive policy issues (like whether Facebook is a monopoly) to more sensational queries—for example, he knew what to say if a senator asked if he planned to fire people over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. (Answer: “That was my responsibility. Not going to throw people under the bus.”) The cheat sheet is revealing the breadth of subject matter Zuckerberg was prepared to address. The Facebook CEO had coming packing a lot of spin.
Here are six of the most interesting things Zuckerberg had jotted down:
• Under the heading Business Model: “Let’s be clear: Facebook doesn’t sell your data. You own your information. We give you controls.”—It’s true that Facebook has given its users an ever-finer degree of control of their privacy settings over the years. The problem is that it’s often buried those settings or made them indecipherable—and that Facebook’s business model doesn’t really work unless a substantial number of its users can’t be bothered to think about them.
• There’s a section on diversity, and the first canned answer places Facebook’s particular workforce diversity problem within the context of a broader problem in the industry: “Silicon Valley has a problem, and Facebook is part of that problem.” The second talking point includes Facebook’s diversity numbers: “3% African American, 5% Hispanic.” These numbers cover the entire company and are much lower if you look at technical roles and leadership roles at Facebook.
• There are talking points about Apple CEO Tim Cook’s recent critique of Facebook’s ad-targeting business model, many of which sounded a little like fighting words—like “Lots of stories about apps misusing Apple data, never seen Apple notify people” and “Important to hold everyone to the same standard.” Ouch!
• The notes include a section on the EU’s General Data Protection Rule, or GDPR, which is the new comprehensive data privacy legislation going into effect in across Europe next month. Facebook’s public relations team has found a way to spin Europe’s robust consumer protection requirements into a talking point against the need for similar laws in the United States. “GDPR does a few things,” the cheat sheet says. “Provides control over data use—what we’ve done for years. Requires consent—done a little bit, but now doing more in Europe and around the world,” read two of the bullet points. Those statements carry the suggestion that Facebook doesn’t need American regulations on top of European ones.
• There’s a header on competition, where Zuckerberg has written down that Facebook is a “small part of the ad market: advertisers have choices too—$650 billion market, we have 6%.” It’s an interesting talking point, because while it may be true for all of advertising, when looking at the online ad market, Facebook made up 20 percent of the U.S. revenue in 2017, while Google accounted for 39 percent that year, according to the digital research firm eMarketer. Together the two companies accounted for nearly 60 percent of online ad revenue in the US in 2017.
• Zuckerberg was even prepared to defend himself in case a Senator suggested he throw in the towel: “Resign? Founded Facebook. My decisions. I made mistakes. Big challenge, but we’ve solved problems before, going to solve this one. Already taking action.” Dramatic.
The photo only shows two pages in a folder with many pages behind them, so just because something isn’t addressed here doesn’t mean Zuckerberg was unprepared for the question. Still, there were some exchanges when the Facebook CEO did seem unsure how to answer. Like when Sen. Marcia Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington, asked Zuckerberg about Facebook board member Peter Thiel’s Silicon Valley company Palantir and its connection to Cambridge Analytica.
But perhaps the main takeaway from this surreptitious shot of Zuckerberg’s notes, for me anyway, is how to write an efficient cheat sheet when prepping to give a talk. The notes are clearly organized and loaded with pithy phrases that tease just enough information to encourage the reader to riff and sound natural. And as familiar as Zuckerberg may have sounded on Tuesday, he did stay on script.
April Glaser is a Slate technology writer and co-hosts the podcast If Then.
Slate · by April Glaser · April 11, 2018