Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe

Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe

With 197 ratings

By: Roger McNamee

Purchased At: $31.50

The New York Times bestseller about a noted tech venture capitalist, early mentor to Mark Zuckerberg, and Facebook investor, who wakes up to the serious damage Facebook is doing to our society - and sets out to try to stop it. 

If you had told Roger McNamee even three years ago that he would soon be devoting himself to stopping Facebook from destroying our democracy, he would have howled with laughter. He had mentored many tech leaders in his illustrious career as an investor, but few things had made him prouder, or been better for his fund's bottom line, than his early service to Mark Zuckerberg. Still a large shareholder in Facebook, he had every good reason to stay on the bright side. Until he simply couldn't.

ZUCKED is McNamee's intimate reckoning with the catastrophic failure of the head of one of the world's most powerful companies to face up to the damage he is doing. It's a story that begins with a series of rude awakenings. First there is the author's dawning realization that the platform is being manipulated by some very bad actors. Then there is the even more unsettling realization that Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are unable or unwilling to share his concerns, polite as they may be to his face.

And then comes the election of Donald Trump, and the emergence of one horrific piece of news after another about the malign ends to which the Facebook platform has been put. To McNamee's shock, even still Facebook's leaders duck and dissemble, viewing the matter as a public relations problem. Now thoroughly alienated, McNamee digs into the issue, and fortuitously meets up with some fellow travelers who share his concern, and help him sharpen its focus. Soon he and a dream team of Silicon Valley technologists are charging into the fray, to raise consciousness about the existential threat of Facebook, and the persuasion architecture of the attention economy more broadly -- to our public health and to our political order.

Zucked is both an enthralling personal narrative and a masterful explication of the forces that have conspired to place us all on the horns of this dilemma. This is the story of a company and its leadership, but it's also a larger tale of a business sector unmoored from normal constraints, just at a moment of political and cultural crisis, the worst possible time to be given new tools for summoning the darker angels of our nature and whipping them into a frenzy. Like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, Roger McNamee happened to be in the right place to witness a crime, and it took him some time to make sense of what he was seeing and what we ought to do about it. The result of that effort is a wise, hard-hitting, and urgently necessary account that crystallizes the issue definitively for the rest of us.
This is a comprehensive and disturbing overview of the pervasive harm caused by Facebook. Google and Amazon are mentioned in passing. Most of it deals with Facebook. After reading this, one is very well informed about the extensive methods and psychological tools used to create Facebook addiction, as well as, more generally, tools used for mass persuasion.
Unfortunately, the author's innate progressivism permeates. Throughout the book, the author repeatedly refers to 'hate speech', extremist views, and 'conspiracy theories'. As an example of the latter, he brings up Alex Jones and the site Infowars – but ignores or is ignorant of - the fact that much of Jones' content dealt with true examples of law enforcement abuses – exactly what Black Lives Matter (who he enthuses over repeatedly) was supposedly organized to fight. He calls for people with divergent views to 'talk' to each other – but progressives have demonized disagreement as 'hate speech' or 'gay bashing (same sex marriage), or 'denier ism (climate change), 'white privilege (financial success, ironically except for Zuckerberg, Bozos, etc). This worldview overlay dilutes the very real hazards of technology: only an aggressive government regulatory response is his answer. Except for DuckDuckGo, which is a browser that doesn't track users, no private sector solutions are mentioned. Chapter 14, “What About You”, is short on concrete steps individuals can take right now to protect themselves, and long on calls for 'public pressure' to force external action.
The author regurgitates every current progressive trope and buzzword: Trump as the devil incarnate whom the Russians got elected, hate speech, conspiracy theories, government regulation as the only solution, inadequate public school spending responsible for disengaged adult citizens, the Democratic party as America's saviors, George Soros as a savior, and so on. Yet there's no mention of the progressive philosophies that underpin Facebook – collectivism and a belief in a higher-ordered visionary ruling elite. The capture of American education by tech companies which began in the 80's, is mentioned in passing.
Absent is any free market solution, except for generalized calls to encourage competition. Nor any solution other than government agencies tasked with micromanaging online content, what constitutes acceptable speech, and encouraging opposing views. He even calls for a click box labeled 'opposing views' for users to click on! Who would develop content for this is ignored. It is hard to imagine an NPR or MSNBC viewer seeking 'opposing' views. If they did so now, there wouldn't be the 'filter bubble' problem he repeatedly refers to. Why the assumption that 'hate' speech – which is dog-whistle speak for what the left opposes – must be censored? The author should be advocating for more openness, not less. Let all ideas be tested in the marketplace of ideas, as was basically the case for the past 200 years.
This book does an excellent job of laying out the problems caused by Facebook, but what could have been a wide-ranging examination of what is probably the biggest challenge to modern life is narrowed by the author's narrow worldview. By all means read it – but recognize the progressive proselytizing.

- celine_scott

I've been working in Silicon Valley for 30 years. I'm very cautious to listen to the rich elites like McNamee. McNamee makes a fortune on the shoulders of young, immature, arrogant kids like Zuckerberg. So should we now pat him on the back for acknowledging things went wrong. Facebook is Zuckerberg's first job. Zuckerberg had no industry experience prior. Zuckerberg became a billionaire at 23. Zuckerberg was known as essentially screwing over those who helped get him there. All of those things, and more, should have been cause for concern for the ethical future of any Facebook. Instead, however, investors on Sand Hill road just kissed his feet for a chance to make millions. And now we're supposed to buy their book about how Facebook and social media is bad and is destroying Democradcy? Where was McNamee 12 years ago when books like the Cult of the Amateur came out and laid out many cases for why social media wasn't great? I'll tell you where he was: getting sickly rich off of it. As such a guru and mentor to Zuckerberg, why didn't he drive the company the right direction? My guess, Zuck simply wouldn't listen and that hurt McNamee's ego and so now he's getting revenge by writing this book. Meanwhile, if McNamee had gotten out among the elder rank and file even 12 or 15 years ago you would have gleaned a lot more about the evils of social networking. In other words, the rich elites are out of touch and, as such, are surprised at what many much wiser industry alums had already predicted. Maybe McNamee should eat lunch with a veteran technical worker instead of his investor buddies once in a while.

- isla_williams

The first chapter almost discouraged me from reading more because of the author’s name dropping and shameless self-promotion of his band.

But I’m glad I kept reading. The book’s substance grows with each chapter, crescendoing into a convincing alarm for the survival of democracy.

The only post-Chapter-1 annoyances were the author’s admission after hundreds of pages that he still uses Facebook (probably for his band) and the perfunctory disclaimer so common among fellow Ivy Leaguers that Zuckerberg and other Facebook employees who repeatedly lied and violated user trust since the company’s inception “aren’t bad people,” just good people confused by narrow-minded business forces.

It’s time to redefine bad people as people who do bad things, even if that includes folk from the white and other-toned Ivy League chumocracy.

Zuckerberg repeatedly demonstrated sociopathy or psychopathy since his days at Harvard, and probably well before — qualities great for shareholder value. The author describes Zuck’s known transgressions in detail over and over. It shows how VC people turn a blind eye to unscrupulous behavior and assume good can come from evil then act surprised when a lizard matures into a dragon. To quote, Zuck, “Dumb f—s.”

- adele_ruiz

I was curious why the author would write a negative book about the people and company he helped nourish & develop. He did in fact criticize his colleagues at Facebook early on and explained some of the techniques used to dramatically grow their user base. However it eventually devolved into yet another book about how the progressives had the 2016 election stolen from them by the Russians. Embarrassed I fell for the ol' bait & switch. I thought it was going to be a serious book by a serious writer. Buyer beware I guess.

- reese_mendoza

The book was incredibly tedious. It's clear who his heroes are and who they aren't. He gives kudos to the Democrats for using Facebook and admonishes/slams the Republicans and "bad actors" for doing the same things. His proof for his assertions was less than clear-cut. If you are a Facebook user and totally up on all acronyms and phrasing in the world of Facebook, maybe the book will make sense. If not, you'll be perennially lost.

- rory_cook

This is a seriously important book. The author has lived much of his life in the tech sector; began as something of a cheerleader for Facebook, then detected something going awry when he observed many strange messages about Bernie Sanders surfacing in early 2016; he then goes on to relate his fruitless efforts to get Facebook (ie Zuckerberg and Sheryl, both of whom he knew well) to listen. Some of the statistics he quotes are staggering, such as the many thousands of data points they have harvested about their users - and the friends of their users, whether they like it or not.

In particular I found the early chapters fascinating, as he takes the reader from the post-war consensus to the Reagan construction of deregulation and 'government is the problem' and out-of-control selfishness; I've never read a clearer account of those trends in Western society. But don't take that to mean that the later chapters are dull - they're anything but dull, they're frightening. He writes so very clearly, he has such a wide range.

I was left with some self-examination. First, self-congratulatory: I signed on for Facebook (and MySpace - remember?) and then got an uncomfortable feeling that I'd be giving away information about myself that was nobody's business, so I didn't engage further; and I don't do apps on my phone. Happily, I can now congratulate myself for justified wariness rather than castigate myself as a Luddite. (At the moment, I'm being pestered by adverts for an online weight-loss program of dubious usefulness that would run on my phone - WTF? ). But I'd also confess that 20 years ago I designed an interactive computer program; it never went anywhere, but my tech-savvy partner enthused about the possibilities of 'personalisation' and I confess that I never saw the dangers implicit in trapping people inside a filter bubble. So I can understand the appeal - initially - of giving people what suits them; the author of this book is very clear about what happens when you give people only what suits them.

My old linguistics professor, seeking to make the point that all meaning boils down to a combination of evaluation, power, and activity, challenged me to think of a word that is as powerfully good as the word 'vicious' is bad. Not possible. It's been demonstrably difficult to imagine a candidate that's as powerfully a force for good as Trump is a force for the other; and of course in Brexit all the power, all the excitement, was with those who wanted to leave. This book shows these forces at work.

Also - and unusually for a book describing oncoming problems - he does have some seriously useful proposals to put forward; he has, after all, been working with policy-makers at State and Federal levels. For example, mandating that tech companies treat personal data in the same way as doctors or lawyers regard their clients' data; revising the definition of 'monopoly,' and so on.

In summary, required reading.

- vanessa_brown

This book is a "must read" for all users of social media, especially teenagers using Facebook and Twitter. A timely reminder that user control is an illusion and internet platforms rely for their "success" on unrelenting psychological appeal to basic human instincts. They promote extremism and fake news through Twitter and Facebook Groups, and aim to modify attitudes and behaviour. The potential for electoral interference is plain to see. All the platforms work in similar, though in most cases less extreme ways, and all agree that regulation would destroy their business models and hence their share price, so they resist it and use almost totally spurious arguments to make their case. But international regulation must come, and the sooner the better.

- lennox_cook

Without doubt a book that will disturb you. A clear and easily understandable analysis of how Facebook’s business model is causing real and possibly permanent damage to the democratic and civic structures of pretty much every state where it is allowed to operate. How young, intelligent, enthusiastic but in the end apparently irredeemably egotistical and arrogant individuals put themselves ahead of everything else and seem oblivious or uncaring of the consequences of their action. (Other huge tech companies are also criticised but Facebook seems to be the leading problem.)

The straight forward explanations of filter and preference bubbles, brain hacking and deliberate addiction strategies etc. make these matters readily accessible. Coupled with the descriptions of how AI is used behind the scenes build the entire situation into a truly black prognosis of the potential future unless action is taken by both ‘users’ and regulators.

The author provides suggested remedies, both for societies as a whole and also for individuals who are concerned at their wholesale loss of privacy and want to do something today to protect themselves and their families. Sounds apocalyptic I know, but the details of deliberate directed manipulation should worry everyone. Read it and if you still want to use Facebook then at least you have made a conscious decision.

- selena_nelson

Facebook is for the uneducated parts of society, of which Zuckerburg sees as easy prey. This book just emphasises what the elite/intelligent already know & the rest will simply choose to ignore just how menacing Facebook is to modern day society. The negatives simply outweigh any positives by a long way. If anyone out there is ready to be unplugged, then I suggest you read this book & take the red pill. Deleting Facebook might just be the best thing you ever do.

- kalel_ward

Loved this book—clear presentation of the risks posed by the monopoly that Facebook has amassed over our online lives. I first heard McNamee speak at a TED event, and decided to read his book based on that conversation. It inspired me to share it with my teenage daughter.
Recommend to read!

- reuben_garcia

I won't regurgitate the contents of this book as they are well-covered in other reviews. It was a good read, though at times I found the 'hip' right-on tone slightly irritating - but that might just have been the transatlantic effect. The book confirmed all of my reservations about social media and added a few more to keep me awake at night.

This subject is now going viral (as it were) and there is plenty other material available, as tecchie types wake up to the dangers of the god they once worshipped - and at whose feet a vast proportion of the world sit in rapt adoration. I've come late to the SM party and I'm not convinced I want to stay. This book certainly wouldn't encourage me

The takeaway from Zuked (for me) is that we don't have to be in thrall, we can live perfectly social and meaningful lives without the ubiquitous device near to hand. For me that's no big deal. I'm tech-light. But I fear for the generations that know no different, and the author paints a grim picture of the addictive and intrusive power of algorithms.

The last chapter in the book offers some real solutions as follows:
Accept on-line platforms for what they are and not what you'd like them to be (ie don't take them too seriously or believe the content)
Use politicians to effect change at the highest levels, and utilise the consensus among voters
Lobby members of Congress (US) or MPs in parliament
Focus on 'surveillance capitalism' when lobbying - eg in relation to healthcare data, and personal data
Educate politicians in how platforms exploit their participants
Do not babysit children with phones or tablets eg UTube Kids has age-inappropriate content
Increase the age at which children can be targeted by internet platforms from 13 to 18
Put pressure on elected representatives to minimize data harvesting, especially from third parties
Give individuals control over their own data - ie treat it as a human right
Tighten up electoral structures so that bad actors can't harm the democratic process
Prohibit micro-targeted advertising in the context of elections
Change the relationship with technology, give up Google, FB and Twitter if they are becoming addictive
Consider Apple products as an alternative - Apple Maps, Microsoft Office apps for Mac, Apple Pay
Apple gives priority to customer privacy
Avoid Amazon Alexa - no privacy guarantees
Challenge the use of educational devices in school and introduce children to natural activities outside, and healthy social interaction

That's a very superficial resume, but it gives a flavour of what the author is trying to achieve.

I had only one beef with this book and perhaps it's not a fair one, as I've noticed a similar bias in other excellent reads. In his analysis of the 2016 US election (and this book is geared completely to a US readership) the author tends to lend too much weight to the interference by Russian agents - as a deciding factor in the election of Trump. I think this is an unfortunate bias, not because I disbelieve that the tampering happened, but because that was not the full story.

My personal opinion of the POTUS is pretty robust (ie not in his favour) but I worry that some intelligent writers are a little too ready to believe that this or any other election result was down to foreign intervention. By implication this makes a mockery of the voting choices of the American electorate. How much they were influenced by technology is hard to say, but there were other forces at play. The same assumption has been made, in a different context about Brexit. I think the author betrays a lack of empathy with voters in these elections who didn't share his political preference. My point is not political, but about the need for veracity, and for tech writers not to make value judgements outside their area of expertise.

For the record I was horrified when Trump was elected, and had a much more nuanced view of our exit from the EU. It's a small point but it caused me to dock one point from what is otherwise a tour de force.

- kyra_hughes

Good read. Could be repetitive, but sometimes it is necessary to drive a point home. Also references a number of other good books. I’m guessing the people that could most use this book’s “wake-up call” will never read it. Pity.

- princess_green

Excellent publication. More Facebook suckers should read it. Stop pressing the "like" button if nothing else.

- jack_wright

The author comes across as knowledgeable and I like the way he knows everyone in the business, but doesn't show it off. He seems very grounded and modest. The book describes how FB and others are slowly becoming unmanageable, and too much power is in the hands of people who are either dishonest or incompetent. The jury's out.

- reginald_torres

Very good review of how Facebook got where it is and what is wrong or dangerous about how it is managed now and what it means for us as a global society. Good to read if you’re interested in a wider conversation about social media, regulation or lack thereof, and insights into how it all works together.

- derek_hill

The book raisies some interesting points, but it's repetitive and I feel is should have been much more tightly edited - it's overly long in getting the points across.

- catalina_reyes

Reasoned warning about the all encompassing grip of Social media . Think before you join in . There are consequences that are out of one’s control

- shelby_bailey

McNamee is well placed to tell the story of Facebook's fall from grace and perversion of the original mission, but also does an excellent job of analysing Facebook in the wider context of attention obsessed tech that permeates Silicon Valley and beyond. If you still have a Facebook account after reading about the strange mixture of callous, blasé, and incompetent upper management, I'd be surprised.

- markus_allen

If you use Facebook, you really need to read this book. A damning indictment from an insider who's seen the light.

- alec_miller

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