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How Mark Zuckerberg Fooled ’60 Minutes’

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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!

36 Responses to “How Mark Zuckerberg Fooled ’60 Minutes’”

  1. Legalize

    PRIVACY VIOLATION ALERT! You can now spy on your friends’ relationships. Visit a friend’s page, click on “See Friendship” at the top right to see your mutual friends, etc. But then enter two friends names and see:

    — their mutual friends
    — pics together
    — events they attended together
    — all the notes they posted on each other’s Walls
    — and how long they’ve known each other


  2. Winton Churchill

    I couldn’t disagree more with the article’s #1 point that the changes to Facebook are trivial.

    In terms of improving the quality of the user experience (especially for not technical users and users who don’t live on Facebook) the improvements are big. (And I say that as a software exec who has been involved in the development of 100+ products.)

    Also really important to post what you think is most relevant at the top of the page rather than burying it in endless messages.

    This is a big deal for people who are more technically challenged and not on Facebook yet…presumable an area where Facebook sees their next wave of growth.
    (Any newspaper person can tell you why “above the fold” is important.)

    Also you would have to look at the world of brain science and NLP work to understand how submodalities impact the brains desire to “stay or go”…a key factor for a software developer who wants to attract more new users to their site…and anybody who thinks bigger pictures are only “cosmetic” would do well to investigate this area of brain/user experience.

    In the end, Zuckerberg is a 26 year old kid and world he now lives in is more to process that most of will deal with in a lifetime…but at the end of the day… his insight into what makes a site “cool” and his understanding of relationship are what makes him such a valuable executive. Everybody blah,blah, blahs about relationship… but he really understands the desire to connect in a way that some (most) technology people don’t…they have a blind spot.

  3. Stahl and the rest of that ossified group of newsreaders are non-factors in the dynamics of this issue. Zuckerberg’s the same weasel he’s always been and will continue to be – so why shouldn’t he trumpet the ‘newest version’ of his ad-revenue-generating website to the biggest (and most clueless) audience ever?

  4. Chris Bagley

    Great post by Andrew Wallenstein and great comments.

    I think the mainstream media overplay Facebook mainly at the expense of other social networking sites. Other than Facebook, Twitter and occasionally FourSquare and MySpace, I don’t see many mentions of the others except on tech blogs and occasionally in “Fortune” or in the business sections of newspapers. Taken as a whole, these social networks are changing users’ entire web experience in a way that Facebook alone does not. There are social networks for movie reviews, socnets for product reviews, for check-ins and for travel advice. My employer is essentially a socnet for musicians, filmmakers and studios — it develops fan sites at Anyway, while Facebook is starting to allow more of this through its own services such as Places, I think the specialized socnets do a much better job of it, especially when they work in tandem with Facebook.

  5. Give Zuckerberg credit. He learned from his previous PR mistakes. He hired a consultant and obviously spent his money well. Nothing every CEO on the planet hasn’t done already.

  6. Hi Jen Palm Beach,

    I was just blogging/thinking faster than the fingers could keep up. I was simply expressing myself. You are right though, when blogging pay more attention to the grammar and mistakes. Thanks, for catching that and calling it to my attention (ok, done with that). In the midst of the bad economy you have young folks thinking outside of the “square” box. With that said, I feel that companies are more prone to listen to what is “new” out there. There will be more Mark Zuckerberg’s making changes in business and technology. There is always a way to do things a little better. It is already happening. Depending on where you are in this nation, you might have worked for or are working with a young leader now. The point that I was trying to bring across was that, my hopes are for young CEO’s to bring a positive change to America. I believe because of our youth we don’t want to be like the typical greedy CEO’s that have brought us down as a nation. If one of us is lucky enough to make the millions or billions, give it back to the community. Find a way in your business model to not only be profitable but structure it in a way that your company could do something positive for your community. No question, Mark Zuckerberg is one smart dude. I don’t know him personally but from what I have seen in interviews and what I have read about him he seems like a humble guy. In recent months, Zuckerberg has already done some charitable gestures. After listening to the 60 Minutes interview, he enjoys the fact that his story inspires people. It is all good.

  7. Andrew Wallenstein

    Eric and Dawn have an interesting take–that Zuckerberg’s improved TV performance is largely due to the natural maturation of a twentysomething “kid.” While i’m sure that’s a factor, I highly doubt that Zuckerberg simply got better all by himself. I think he’s getting some great coaching, and more power to him for realizing his weaknesses and doing the hard work to fix them.

  8. There’s no reason why anyone should be surprised that this was a “puffball” interview. For a long time, Facebook has limited or denied access to journalists who it suspected would do a negative report. Zuckerberg’s discomfort at the All Things D event earlier this year was due in large part to the fact that he knew that he didn’t have control of the questions. Even if “60 Minutes” didn’t submit questions in advance, it’s clear that Facebook knew the most likely questions that Stahl would ask, and “sweetened the pot” with the non-event of revealing its new home page design early in order to get more compliance and better control of the conversation.

  9. Relative to his “dramatic change” it should be remembered that none of us is as poised at 20 or 22 as we are at 25 and then again at 30 and so on. I would hazard a guess he will undergo more dramatic changes as he matures. Also, males don’t develop control over the impulse centers in their brains until around age 24 – maybe he has finally developed his.

  10. @awallenstein: Why bother put them down for playing their cards right and getting the opportunity to tout their changes on 60 Minutes?

    The changes are in fact significant – all incredibly advanced with regards to usability for the entire platform…also laying the groundwork for new, improved features we’ll be seeing soon.

    Give the kid a break, he’s maturing – obviously a little TV coaching has gone a long way since his past TV interview. You come off as a whiny hater…I won’t seek out your next article if you’re just going to slam the target for the sake of creating buzz for your own posts.

  11. JenPalmBeach: I think you meant “if only you were literate,” not “if you were only literate.”

    Too bad you were being snarky about someone else’s writing style.

  12. Benjamin Philips

    I get it that the writer doesn’t like Zuckerberg. But enough with the generational warfare – “most people from her generation aren’t very adept to the internet as a whole.” How about the clear age discrimination in Silicon Valley against skilled workers who happen to be over 40! Why aren’t older people EVER hired as interns and given the chance to work their way into organizations.

  13. scorpion_48

    Zuckerberg is a privacy terrorist and he won’t admit it. Stop him–someone! Bernanke is either clueless or he’s clueless b/c he is gearing up to screw taxpayers in part 2. Corporations are sitting on trillions. Why not demand they create jobs or else. Call it Jobs for Cash. If Americans gave big business every dime–they’d want our shirts and shoes.

  14. kristiec

    Not sure if anyone has made this comment already, but I kept thinking that Leslie Stahl was the absolute wrong person to interview Mark Z. She is just way to out-of-it technologically, and her old-lady lipstick was smeared all over her face (I’m so sorry!). She just came off as too grandma. Is the 60 Minutes make-up artist mad at her or something? Not to come off as too grandma my self, but Mark Z reminds me of a young Bill Gates. Someone should dig up old Bill Gates press and substitute Mark Z’s name for Bill G, and I guarantee people would think they were reading current critique. So, my recommendation is to get someone younger — maybe Anderson Cooper — to interview Mark outside the office, and maybe we’ll get something useful and real.

  15. he didn’t just fool 60 minutes, he’s fooled 500 million people. why people feel free to share everything that’s on their mind and make this guy a billionaire is beyond me. it’s apparent he’s developed a ‘reality distortion field’ now. he’s found a way to take advantage of people and they love it. it’s really interesting when you find out what people really use facebunk for. the science behind all the keywords and usage time is alarming. it’s the ‘jersey shore’ of social media. i guess you can’t call it a cult with 500 million followers. leslie stahl go zuckerpuched…

  16. totally agree with this article! He answered no question directly. It was all hype for a cosmetic change, and Lesley Stahl conducted a meaningless interview that basically gave FB free hype. Much ado about nothing big.

  17. We also can’t rule out that Facebook likely heavily pushed for 60 Minutes to run this interview because it is ramping up its lobbying efforts over privacy concerns in Washington DC, and because it knows that practically every Congressman and policy wonk in DC watches 60 Minutes.

    So let’s not put all of the blame on 60 Minutes. This was a two-way street where FB was clearly trying to get more out of it than just an infomercial for its latest site update. Zuck and crew were trying to do much more – they were aiming right at the hearts and minds of the lawmakers who fervently watch 60 Minutes every Sunday.

  18. Sounds like 60 Minutes ‘fooled themselves’ rather than being tricked by Zuckerberg. I’d love to hear more about Zuckerberg’s ‘War on Piracy.’ Hopefully he’s been practicing his maritime maneuvers as well as he’s crafter his public persona.

  19. JenPalmBeach

    To Elizabeth Perez:
    Interesting opinion on youth and young CEO’s. I sure hope you’re right.
    If you were only literate, you’d have so much more credibility. Continue your education. Take some English composition classes!

  20. With all due respect, people like Stahl and Diane Sawyer belong in Hollywood. They are not journalists. The only viewers who got anything out of the Zuckerberg interview are those who know next to nothing about the issues surrounding Facebook and privacy. And God knows what they got. I was more perturbed by the interview with Ben Bernanke, who basically informed the public that we are in for many years of bad economics. His rationale for quantitative easing was hilarious. He said small businesses really aren’t in the market for credit, then partially explained QE2 as a way to give banks more money to lend to these businesses. And Kroft didn’t bat an eyelid. Oy!

  21. 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.

  22. Andrew Wallenstein

    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…

  23. 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.

  24. 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.