In a recent Time magazine article, Roger McNamee offers an agitated criticism of Facebook, adapted from his book Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe. Facebook “has a huge impact on politics and social welfare,” he claims, and “has done things that are truly horrible.” Facebook, he says, is “terrible for America.”
McNamee suggests his “history with the company made me a credible voice.” From 2005 to 2015, McNamee was one of a half dozen managing directors of Elevation Partners, an $1.9 billion private equity firm that bought and sold shares in eight companies, including such oldies as Forbes and Palm. U2 singer Bono was a co-founder. Other partners included two former executives from Apple and one from Yahoo. Another is married to the sister of Facebook’s COO. Such investors are not necessarily disinterested observers, much less policy experts.
Between November 2009 and June 2010 Elevation Partners invested $210 million for 1% of Facebook. That was early, but two years after Microsoft made a larger investment. Back then, McNamee and other investors had facetime with Zuckerberg.
McNamee supposedly became alarmed while perusing “Bay Area for Bernie” on Facebook and finding suspicious memes critical of Hillary. Later, he imagined the Brexit vote must be due to misleading Facebook posts (as if British tabloids and TV were silent). “Brexit happens in June,” he says, “and then I think, Oh my god, what if it’s possible that in a campaign setting, the candidate that has the more inflammatory message gets a structural advantage from Facebook? And then in August, we hear about Manafort, so we need to introduce the Russians into the equation.”
He suggests goofy Facebook ads by Russian trolls stole the U.S. election from Clinton. Actually, the Mueller indictment said the Internet Research Agency “allegedly used social media and other internet platforms to address a wide variety of topics” to inflame political debates, frequently taking both sides of divisive issues. Such political trolling for fun and profit (clicks generate advertising money) is commonplace in Russia, and also at home in the USA.