Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made headlines Tuesday after portions of two open meetings he held with his company’s employees in July were published by The Verge.
During the approximately two hours of leaked recordings obtained by The Verge, Zuckerberg fielded questions from workers who were concerned about the social media giant’s future. The Verge plans to release even more information from the recordings in the coming days.
Here’s a look at some of the more interesting tidbits from the audio published Tuesday.
1. He said an Elizabeth Warren presidency would ‘suck for us’
When asked about how Facebook would deal with regulators and politicians like Democratic US Senator Elizabeth Warren who wanted to bust up big tech, Zuckerberg said he was worried that someone would try to break up the company but expressed confidence that Facebook would win that particular battle.
Zuckerberg acknowledged the political movement involving people who are angry at tech companies and the issues that aren’t being handled well by them. However, he said, the right answer wasn’t to break up Facebook, like Warren has suggested.
He continued by saying if Warren was elected president, “then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge. And does that still suck for us? Yeah.”
Zuckerberg said he didn’t want to have “a major lawsuit against our own government,” but “at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.”
Warren responded to the comments on Twitter on Tuesday by saying: “What would really ‘suck’ is if we don’t fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy,” adding, “I’m not afraid to hold Big Tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon accountable. It’s time to #BreakUpBigTech.”
2. He threw shade at Twitter
Facebook and Twitter are two of the top social media names in the world — but Zuckerberg was quick to belittle his competitor’s resources as he spoke about regulators trying to break up tech companies, saying, “Twitter can’t do as good of a job as we can.”
He said that Twitter faces “the same types of issues” that Facebook does, but “they can’t put in the investment.”
“Our investment on safety is bigger than the whole revenue of their company,” Zuckerberg said, to laughter from employees. “And yeah, we’re operating on a bigger scale, but it’s not like they face qualitatively different questions. They have all the same types of issues that we do.”
(Twitter workers might have the last laugh, though: A recent Glassdoor analysis found that Twitter workers outearned their Facebook counterparts, with a median salary of $162,852 versus $152,962.)
3. He divulged a bit more about the rocky rollout of Libra
Skeptical lawmakers this summer skewered Facebook’s plan to create Libra, a new global cryptocurrency. Zuckerberg defended the new initiative to his workers.
Facebook has previously said the cryptocurrency would bridge a gap for people who lack access to traditional banking. The project would ultimately allow Facebook’s 2.4 billion users to send and transfer money quickly, and with almost no fees.
In his talk with employees, Zuckerberg said Facebook planned to roll out Libra with existing currencies before the end of 2019, and to continue working on the “more exotic” project of starting a new digital currency.
He said Libra is a “big idea” and a “new type of system,” but he added: “We’re not the only ones doing this.”
He also said private hearings with regulators were proving much more helpful than public ones, saying the open-door hearings “tend to be a little more dramatic” and the closed-door ones “often are more substantive.”
“Those meetings aren’t being played for the camera, but that’s where a lot of the discussions and details get hashed out on things,” he said.
4. He has a plan to try to rival competitor TikTok
Originally launched in China as Douyin, social media app TikTok is taking the United States and its younger population by storm — something that a concerned employee asked about during Zuckerberg’s talk.
Zuckerberg said Facebook is developing an app called Lasso to compete with TikTok, which focuses on short-form videos. (“TikTok — from the moment you tap the app — pushes you out into the world and attempts to guess where you’d want to go,” a Globe writer recently said in a review of the app.)
Zuckerberg said he plans to launch Lasso in countries where TikTok hasn’t quite dominated yet, before competing with the rival company more directly in markets where it’s already popular.
He also cautioned that TikTok’s business model might not be sound, saying that although it’s growing, TikTok is “spending a huge amount of money” to promote it.
“What we’ve found is that their retention is actually not that strong after they stop advertising,” Zuckerberg said. “So the space is still fairly nascent, and there’s time for us to kind of figure out what we want to do here.”
5. He said people are using Instagram now primarily for its ‘stories’ function
As he spoke about TikTok, Zuckerberg noted that the rival app is similar to Instagram’s “Explore” function, leading him to talk a bit about that popular app.
However, while divulging how he was making Instagram more competitive with TikTok, he let loose one interesting tidbit: that one of the most popular features of Instagram is its “stories.”
“We’re taking a number of approaches with Instagram, including making it so that Explore is more focused on stories, which is increasingly becoming the primary way that people consume content on Instagram,” he said.
6. He defended his power in the company, saying, ‘We wouldn’t even be here if I didn’t have control’
During his answers to two separate questions, Zuckerberg defended his near-complete power in making important decisions for the company, saying that without that, “we wouldn’t even be here.”
“In 2006, when Yahoo wanted to buy our company, I probably would’ve been fired, and we would have sold the company,” he said. “We wouldn’t even be here if I didn’t have control.”
He acknowledged that some people had “concerns” that the company — and he as its boss — was too powerful. But he deflected criticism over skipping some hearings in other countries over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
He said that while he appeared before Congress and regulators in the EU, “It just doesn’t really make sense for me to go to hearings in every single country that wants to have me show up and, frankly, doesn’t have jurisdiction to demand that.”
He also said that he takes his “personal conduct” and how it reflects on the company “very seriously,” but adding, “I think, overall, the structure that we’ve had has served the company and the community well.”
7. He gave employees talking points to respond to friends who criticize Facebook
Amid the anxious questions about the future of Facebook, one employee asked what they could do to help improve the company’s image to peers who had a negative opinion of the social media app.
“I think humanizing stuff is always really important,” Zuckerberg began, saying he has always “focused more on the substance” and “a little bit less on the perception.”
“I think a lot changed in the last few years, and especially since the 2016 elections,” he said.
Zuckerberg said that the most “devastating” criticism was around the company’s perceived motives, such as only caring about money.
“I think it’s tough to break down these perceptions and build trust until you get to a place where people know that you have their best interests at heart,” he said, calling his employees “ambassadors” who can speak to those issues.
“You don’t know every single technical project, but you have a sense of what we care about and what people here think about and what the conversations are on a day-to-day basis,” he continued. “And in the conversations that I have, even with some of our biggest critics, I just find that sitting down and talking to people and having them know that you care about the problems and acknowledge that there are issues and that you’re working through them . . . I think it just makes a big difference.”
8. He called brain-computer interface an ‘exciting idea’
When an employee asked about Elon Musk’s startup Neuralink, which develops “brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers,” Zuckerberg called the concept “an exciting idea.”
Zuckerberg said Facebook was concentrated on looking at non-invasive (read as: non-surgical) ways of using the technology, but noted that it could be hard to roll out, joking: “You think Libra is hard to launch. ‘Facebook wants to perform brain surgery’ — I don’t want to see the congressional hearings on that one.”
Zuckerberg said the type of tech that he was hoping for would be something like using augmented reality to click on something with their brain, or saying “yes” or “no” to dialogue boxes instead of having to click on them.
“We’re going for the non-invasive approach, and, actually, it’s kind of exciting how much progress we’re making,” he said, adding that he was trying to make augmented and virtual reality tech “a big thing in the next five years to 10 years.”
“I think as part of AR and VR, we’ll end up having hand interfaces, we’ll end up having voice, and I think we’ll have a little bit of just direct brain,” he said.