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Summary:

Leave it to 60 Minutes to pass off Facebook’s utterly meaningless redesign of the site’s profile pages as some kind of “exclusive” worth lea…

Mark Zuckerberg
photo: AP Images

Leave it to 60 Minutes to pass off Facebook’s utterly meaningless redesign of the site’s profile pages as some kind of “exclusive” worth leading a segment on the company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg. It’s not just that correspondent Lesley Stahl didn’t understand what’s meaningful about his story; it’s that Zuckerberg essentially reduced the venerable newsmagazine to an unwitting shill.

When 60 Minutes revisits the same subject twice in less than three years, there should be a pretty clear sense of what merits the return. There was none to be found. Here’s what did register though:

60 Minutes overplayed a purely cosmetic change. The photos are bigger, the placement of different pieces of information shifted around…big whoop. For Stahl to get all breathless and devote several minutes to the changes toward the beginning of the segment conveyed a significance those changes didn’t have. Facebook basically used CBS (NYSE: CBS) as an infomercial for placating the older demographics most likely to have the kind of reflexive resistance that always accompanies any alterations to Facebook visual design.

Zuckerberg has mastered the non-answer. The few times Stahl tried to draw blood, she was easily deflected. Whenever the questions got tough, whether on Facebook’s approach to privacy issues or its supposed ambition to “own” the internet, Zuckerberg always gave a pat answer that didn’t seem evasive but didn’t quite tackle the matter at hand, either. “Privacy is one of the most fundamental issues facing the internet,” he responded to Stahl at one point, signifying…what?

Enough with The Social Network already. The movie came out a few months ago, every other news outlet on the planet has already covered this including Diane Sawyer in her own interview with Zuckerberg…but 60 Minutes went at it like this was a brand new issue. Stahl did manage to trot out the Winklevoss twins to rehash their allegations toward Zuckerberg, who dispatched them pretty handily.

Zuckerberg’s transformation over the years from awkward dweeb to telegenic smoothie is really extraordinary. Whoever is coaching him should be handsomely rewarded. It’s almost too dramatic a change, as if he’s had a chip implanted in his brain or replaced himself with a more TV-friendly clone.

The contrast was also heightened by 60 Minutes playing the footage from his previous encounter with Stahl, where he sat stone-faced in response to a nervy question comparing him to Google’s founders, and footage of his sweat-bathed implosion at an AllThingsD conference in June. The interrogator in that fiasco was journalist Kara Swisher, who also got off some zingers depicting Zuckerberg as a “toddler CEO” in the first 60 Minutes interview. She returns for the second one with compliments that only serve to cement the rehabilitation of Zuckerberg. “The toddler is a prodigy, as it turns out,” she tells Stahl this time around.

Facebook should take a moment to understand just how lucky they are to have floated over the public-relations minefield that The Social Network lay before them. Handled wrongly, this could have been bad. Thanks largely to Zuckerberg himself, they’ve pulled through with nary a hitch.

P.S. Whoever interviews Zuckerberg next… …would it be too much to ask that he be interviewed outside the office? Facebook is smartly insisting on giving Zuckerberg home-court advantage by letting him hit the same points in every single interview: Yes, we get that Facebook is like an overgrown dormitory because its young-ish staff don’t have to bother with the stuffy trappings of conventional corporate America. Yes, we get that Zuckerberg is humble as all-get-out because he works at a desk without a private office dressed like a college freshman. It’s high time to see how he’ll do outside his comfort zone. Like how about a Zuckerberg-led tour of the Newark public school system he just gave $100 million to–Stahl didn’t even mention it!

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  1. This was simply ridiculous that they would do this story. It was nothing more than a commercial for fb. Are they going to do google’s next makeover of the FAQ page?

  2. I agree with this analysis.

    Opportunity missed on so many levels. Zuck has mastered the art of answering questions like a politician.

  3. Telegenic smoothie indeed! Perhaps he has had coaching but how can you not consider a rise in confidence that comes with an audience of half a billion and an estimated net worth something north of $6 billion? ps. Nice post.

  4. Elizabeth Perez Monday, December 6, 2010

    The next generation is making the move. We are making our mark. To some Zuckerberg is a “toddler CEO prodigy”. Don’t let youth fool you. There are many young CEO’s out there making a difference in our society. It is a shame that 60 minutes did not mention the large donation the Zuckerberg made. The difference about “our” generation is that we are out there making positive changes with our the power that we have. We are making changes in innovation. We are done with the square box way of thinking like that so many CEO’s have done in the past. Greed doesn’t get you no where. Young CEO’s have the knowledge and enthusiasm that make people turn heads…and we have not gotten so lost in a system that sucks the passion out us. We have the entrepreneur spirit and humbleness that makes “stuff” happen. We don’t talk about making things happen, we do. Don’t let our youth fool you. Success means, give back to your community. One person succeeds, we all succeed. The next generation of new CEO’s are young.

  5. Andrew Wallenstein Monday, December 6, 2010

    Elizabeth, i feel your point. I do think that when people Zuckerberg’s age (26) succeed as wildly as he has at the CEO level, you better believe he’ll pave the way for more youngsters to rise to his level. But will they have the unique qualities that made Zuckerberg this successful? time will tell…

  6. Ngô Duy Khánh Monday, December 6, 2010

    LINKE

  7. Cristian Gonzales Monday, December 6, 2010

    A few things I don’t agree with here.

    A. I don’t feel CBS overplayed the Facebook ‘profile page’ cosmetic change. After all, Zuckerberg more than likely only agreed to do the interview, partly, to talk about the Facebook profile page change and it’s only appropriate CBS highlight that. They didn’t ‘over’-highlight it though imo. It was mentioned in the beginning of the interview, and then it moved onto other things.

    B. I agree, about the non-answer. Zuckerberg came off as incredibly rehearsed, and his answers about privacy, imo, show that Facebook is fully aware they are breaking privacy boundaries left and right and simply don’t care. Very telling question that the interviewer posed to the digital blogger, “I wonder if Facebook can exist…if it doesn’t invade privacy.”

    C. While you may be sick of ‘The Social Network’ questions…hate to break it to ya, but plenty of people in the mainstream still talk about the movie and how ‘true’ it is to Zuckerberg and the evolution of Facebook, so it’s only appropriate the interviewer ask those questions.

    D. Well, yeah…definitely agree with you there. He does come off as if someone implanted a chip in him.

    Overall, I enjoyed the interviewer. Sure, there were some parts where I thought to myself…ugh…I wish the interviewer would dig a bit deeper, however, her questions about privacy were very telling in my opinion. It’s obvious privacy still makes Zuckerberg incredibly uncomfortable, sweat-a-palooza or not.

  8. I think you meant privacy, but you wrote piracy. Piracy is an internet problem, but not likely the one Zuckerberg was talking about.

  9. Tyler Beerman Monday, December 6, 2010

    I agree the interview was fairly pointless. But let’s face it, Stahl, and most people from her generation aren’t very adept to the internet as a whole.

  10. Its seems that its like a paid review….Whoa!!!!

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