Mark Zuckerberg (And His Attorneys) vs. The English Language

“I know those words, but that sign makes no sense.” — Lisa Simpson

The wonderful commentariat at Dead Homers seem to be the only people who find this Zuckerberg press release as funny as I do. And while it’s always a bad idea to explain the joke, I cannot help but poke some more at this absurd piece of political, business, and journalistic theater. It’s two groups of people I loathe — tech executives and Red media — braying at each other in public. It’s irresistible snark-nip.

In the light blue corner, we have the Standard Oil of the internet, a company that is currently attempting to bring cheap internet access to poor people, on the condition that everything they connect to goes through Facebook. That’s a ballsy power grab all by itself, like having some foreigner buy the only road into your town and then set up toll booths and 24-hour-surveillance. But the kicker is that they tried to pass it off as a charitable effort. That is Burns level evil.

In the red corner, we have dipshit wingnut Senators and serially vile con artists like Breitbart’s acolytes. These are the same people who strung up the Fairness Doctrine on the grounds that public property (the airwaves) should not be politically representative speech. Now they’re saying that a private company operating over (mostly) private infrastructure must respect political balance? Dos heuvos grande, por fa vor.

The only truly happy outcome here would be the two of them wiping each other out like matter and anti-matter on Star Trek or something. But since we won’t get that, we’ll have to content ourselves with the sight of them preening around for their respective audiences like a couple of abused game cocks.

Here’s Zuckerberg’s most recent strut:

“I want to share some thoughts on the discussion about Trending Topics.”

Right off the bat this is freeze dried, valu brand bullshit. Literally no part of this sentence is true. The first fucking letter is a lie. Even if we assume that the right honorable Chairman and Chief Executive Officer drafted this thing himself, given the number of lawyers and marketing people who certainly reviewed it, “we” would be a lot more honest. And it doesn’t get better from there:

“share some thoughts”

Passive, non-threatening language like this is how you talk to a spoiled eight-year-old. If it was an emoji, it would be a slight frown with its hands on its hips.

“on the discussion about Trending Topics.”

This one’s a twofer, with 1) “discussion” covering up for lunatic screaming on FOX News, AM radio, and wingnut sites and 2) “Trending Topics” being a nice piece of branding. Always mention the product in the first sentence. A more honest and adult version of that cantilevered word project would be something like this:

“A bunch of media outlets (most of whose businesses are undermined by our product every day) are having a hissy fit, and since a lot of our users are scared enough to believe them, my marketing and legal departments have recommended that I issue a statement.”

I will grant that it’s not as compact, but simple, honest language often isn’t. After all, food shrinks when it gets freeze dried, why wouldn’t bullshit?

There are sixteen more sentences in his cutesy pie little message, and each one is just as amusingly dishonest.

1. “Facebook stands for giving everyone a voice.”

“Facebook” doesn’t stand for a fucking thing. It is an advertising medium, a glorified billboard company. Zuckerberg has always seemed like a kool-aid drinker at heart, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he actually believes his own bullshit, but “giving everyone a voice” is missing the asterisk that reads “as long as we can record everything you do and constantly interrupt your attention with ads we make billions on”.

2. “We believe the world is better when people from different backgrounds and with different ideas all have the power to share their thoughts and experiences.”

It’s “We” now, so slight improvement there, but “world is better”? Good rule of thumb: beware of anyone who thinks they’re making the world a better place at a rate of $2.3 billion (2,300,000,000) last quarter. The perfectly generic reference to diversity is a nice dollop of mayo.

3. “That’s what makes social media unique.”

Holy shit, does he still want us to believe the myth of “social media” like it’s 2005? Your “unique” new medium is dominated by the same advertisers who pay for everything on the old ones. Get over yourself. You’re a billboard salesman. It’s an honest trade, but it ain’t special.

4. “We are one global community where anyone can share anything — from a loving photo of a mother and her baby to intellectual analysis of political events.”

Facebook is “one global community” the same way prison islands are communities. Everyone knows who the warden is, and him letting you see pictures of moms and kids doesn’t make him benevolent. And note that patronizing tone again, “intellectual analysis of political events”, big words for the likes of Drudge, Breitbart and company.

5. “To serve our diverse community, we are committed to building a platform for all ideas.”

This is like hearing a dad in a park telling his kids that boys grow up to be doctors and lawyers while girls get to become mommies. He loves you both, though. Really, he does.

6. “Trending Topics is designed to surface the most newsworthy and popular conversations on Facebook.”

Using “surface” like Trending Topics is some kind of monster shark is a nice touch, but “popular conversations on Facebook” is too rich. This man, plus his lawyers and PR people, are describing which private, commercial media reports they choose to link on their private, commercial medium. People mutter all kinds of inane crap to themselves when they pass billboards. Calling those isolated mumblings “popular conversations” is absurd.

7. “We have rigorous guidelines that do not permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or the suppression of political perspectives.”

This is just poor word use. Guidelines, by definition, are not rigorous. If they were rigorous, they would be rules or, you know, laws. Anything that follows that whopper is a disgrace to the pixels it briefly occupies.

8. “This week, there was a report suggesting that Facebook contractors working on Trending Topics suppressed stories with conservative viewpoints.”

Here you can feel the lawyer gaze, melting anything that resembles clear language. Independent articles from The Guardian and Gawker (Gizmodo, whatever) get minimized to a vague “report” without any specific refutation of the charges contained therein. If you don’t say anything meaningful in public, you’ve conserved all your most plausible lies for court! The only concrete statement in the entire thing is to make it clear that outside “contractors” were responsible. This entire sentence is designed to keep as many future explanations open as possible. Also: always mention the product.

9. “We take this report very seriously and are conducting a full investigation to ensure our teams upheld the integrity of this product.”

A “full investigation”? You have 12,000 employees, that’s barely enough people for a small town. How much shady shit are you doing that anything needs a full investigation?

10. “We have found no evidence that this report is true.”

Every time you think this thing has hit Peak Condescension, it soars to new heights. Literally the previous sentence said they are present tense “conducting” an investigation, but now they have past tense “found no evidence”? This is grade school English.

11. “If we find anything against our principles, you have my commitment that we will take additional steps to address it.”

Triple whammy! “If we find” directly contradicts “We have found”, and that’s not even the worst part. “Take additional steps”? Additional to what? You already said you didn’t do anything wrong and therefore haven’t done anything about the nothing you didn’t do, unless you have done something in which case something will be done. Everybody got that?

12. “In the coming weeks, I’ll also be inviting leading conservatives and people from across the political spectrum to talk with me about this and share their points of view.”

Who wants a free trip to California so that Zuckerberg can pretend that he gives a shit what you think? This is like ringing the dinner bell for the wingnut welfare crowd.

13. “I want to have a direct conversation about what Facebook stands for and how we can be sure our platform stays as open as possible.”

No you don’t. The last thing on Earth Mark Zuckerberg wants to do is waste time pretending to listen to anyone from Breitbart or FOX News. For ordinary Facebook wingnuts, this is like hearing Mommy say that she and Daddy are going to talk things out and you don’t need to worry your pretty little heads about it.

14. “The reason I care so much about this is that it gets to the core of everything Facebook is and everything I want it to be.”

You “care so much”? You’ve promised to have a vague and undefined “investigation” of something you deny exists and then take a meeting or two with a couple of people you pick. If that’s caring, how little effort must Zuckerberg put in for things he doesn’t care about?

15. “Every tool we build is designed to give more people a voice and bring our global community together.”

Having artfully promised to do nothing about something that’s not a thing anyway, we’re back to generic tech industry rah-rah: giving people voices, safely neutral “tools”, and the oxymoronic promise to bring a “global community” together.

16. “For as long as I’m leading this company this will always be our mission.”

Your mission is to make money. Laying some bullshit over that and calling it a “mission” is an insult to missions, though I do enjoy the raw assertion of personal power: “I’m leading this company”. Rawr, tiger.

Originally published at