Facebook’s Antisocial Rules of Engagement

Antisocial behavior is not new, but big tech does it better than anyone else

Scott Galloway
Jun 7 · 7 min read

Last Day at L2

Today is my last day at L2, the firm I founded a decade ago and that was sold two years ago. One of the many rewarding things about starting a company is you feel tremendous maternal/paternal reward (and sometimes disappointment), as you have conceived and raised the organism, and it begins to look, smell, and feel like you.

You have a reasonable understanding of a founder if you know the firm. L2 was creative, hard-hitting, and generous. It could also be mean, narcissistic, and play favorites. It’s none of those things any longer, and it’s time for me to leave. Actually, it was time two years ago. Leaving too early is the gangster move, leaving too late is… the stuff of money and insecurity, both too important and present in L2’s founder. But that’s another post.


There’s a firm that’s grown faster than any firm to date. Its founder also set the DNA of the firm, but without the benefit of the modulation and self-awareness that come with age. It’s in a sector where network effects created a handful of organisms of unprecedented scale. There has never been an organization of this scale and influence, that is more like its founder, than Facebook. I know, you’re thinking, “What about the Catholic Church?” Nope. Numerous acts of violence against children, coupled with institutionalized cover-ups, mean the acorn has fallen pretty far from the tree (Jesus).

Here’s the rub: Mark Zuckerberg is a sociopath, and Facebook has institutionalized sociopathy. To understand sociopaths, according to the quirky psychologist on my new favorite show, Fleabag, you need to take things away, not add them. There is no empathy, no emotion, nothing. According to a less entertaining, but likely more credible source, Psychology Today:

Sociopathy is an informal term that refers to a pattern of antisocial behaviors and attitudes. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), sociopathy is most closely represented by Antisocial Personality Disorder. Outwardly, those described as sociopaths may appear disturbed but can also show signs of caring, sincerity, and trustworthiness. In fact, they are manipulative, often lie, lack empathy, and have a weak conscience that allows them to act recklessly or aggressively, even when they know their behavior is wrong.

The above makes for a decent blurb for Zuck for his upcoming 20-year high school reunion. Maybe also something about him learning Mandarin or some such.

As firms scale and want to maintain the DNA of the founder, they often assemble employee handbooks, meant to be a Bible for how “we do things at Facebook.” My friend John Pinette has joined the firm as global head of communications. I like John, and want to help him be successful. Note: the first part of the previous sentence is true.

Easy squeezy, John. First off, identify what behaviors are not acceptable. Images of Tim Cook (respect for privacy), Marc Benioff (concern for the commonwealth), or Indra Nooyi (empathy) are the kryptonite to Sociobook. These vulnerabilities could inhibit the firm’s superpower: making more money while inflicting more damage than any firm in history. Instead, the real North Star at Facebook is simple: understand the behavior of sociopaths. Your team needs to continue to demonstrate and reinforce the following characteristics of how, according to Psychology Today, sociopaths seduce their victims (Congress, regulators, media, citizenry):

— False expressions of love
— False promises of protection
— Fake compatibility (I’m like you)
— I’m the real victim (turning things around on accuser)
— Fantasy villains (inventing crises you alone can fight)

And, of course, no respectable employee manual would be effective without hard examples of the behaviors and characteristics we want to reinforce.

In order:

False expressions of love

Mark Zuckerberg promised love. The key to happiness, and love itself is… connection. Mark set out to “connect the world.” Love on a global scale was coming our way. Sheryl positioned herself as the spokesperson and advocate for the world’s largest oppressed cohort: women.

When people are connected, we can just do some great things. They have the opportunity to get access to jobs, education, health, communications. We have the opportunity to bring the people we care about closer to us. It really makes a big difference.
Mark Zuckerberg, February 2015

[Bringing people closer together is so important that] we’re going to change Facebook’s whole mission to take this on.
Mark Zuckerberg, June 2017

False promises of protection

There are pretty intensive privacy options, people have very good control over who can see their information.
Mark Zuckerberg interview, Harvard Crimson, February 2004

I’m committed to making Facebook the leader in transparency and control around privacy.
Mark Zuckerberg, 2011

I’m serious about doing what it takes to protect our community.
Mark Zuckerberg, March 2018

Your trust is at the core of our service.
Sheryl Sandberg, March 2018

On Facebook, everything that you share there you have control over.
Mark Zuckerberg, testimony to Congress, April 2018

We don’t sell data to anyone… This is the most important principle for Facebook: Every piece of content that you share on Facebook, you own and you have complete control over who sees it, and how you share it, and you can remove it at any time.
Mark Zuckerberg, testimony to Congress, April 2018

Every piece of information that Facebook might know about you, you can get rid of all of it.
Mark Zuckerberg, testimony to Congress, April 2018

We need to do better.
— Sheryl Sandberg, repeatedly, 2018–2019

ZUCK: i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns
FRIEND: what!? how’d you manage that one?
ZUCK: people just submitted it
ZUCK: i don’t know why
ZUCK: they “trust me”
ZUCK: dumb fucks
Mark Zuckerberg conversation with a friend at Harvard

Fake compatibility (I’m like you)

I can relate to this. I started Facebook to connect my college … We were just college kids. But we cared so much about this idea — that all people want to connect. So we just kept pushing forward, day by day, just like you.
Mark Zuckerberg, June 2017

Let me fall if I must fall. The one I become will catch me. Slowly.
Sheryl Sandberg in Option B

I hope you find true meaning, contentment, and passion in your life. I hope you navigate the difficult times and come out with greater strength and resolve. I hope you find whatever balance you seek with your eyes wide open. And I hope that you — yes, you — have the ambition to lean in to your career and run the world. Because the world needs you to change it.
Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In

What is your biggest problem, and how can I solve it?
Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In

I’m the real victim (turning things around on accuser)

This was a breach of trust between Kogan, Cambridge Analytica, and Facebook.
Mark Zuckerberg on Cambridge Analytica scandal, March 2018

Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.
The New York Times, November 2018

Fantasy villains (inventing crises you alone can fight)

There is a huge need and a huge opportunity to get everyone in the world connected, to give everyone a voice and to help transform society for the future. The scale of the technology and infrastructure that must be built is unprecedented, and we believe this is the most important problem we can focus on.
Mark Zuckerberg, Letter to Shareholders, 2012

While people are concerned with the size and power of tech companies, there’s also a concern in the United States with the size and power of Chinese companies, and the realization that those companies are not going to be broken up.
Sheryl Sandberg describing threat to US posed by Chinese tech firms

So if I sound as if I am accusing Facebook of becoming the Hulk to Zuck’s Dr. Bruce Banner, and giving rise to the supernova skynet of sociopathic behavior, trust your instincts. In Star Wars, the Sith Lords were all initially benign.

Two years ago, in The Four, I wrote that big tech posed a much larger threat to our society than we believed. One year ago, I said Mr. Zuckerberg was the most dangerous man in the world. Today, I’d ask we imagine a firm made in its founder’s image that closely mirrors that person’s genius and deficiencies.

Antisocial behavior in media is not new, it’s just new and (uber-) improved here. The President has a direct line to 68 million people via Twitter. Rupert Murdoch serves right-wing propaganda to his 2.4 million viewers. However, these are mosquito bites compared to the ebola of Sociobook. Sociobook Inc. aims to encrypt, abdicating all responsibility, the communications of 2.7 billion people. The algorithm determining the content this cohort receives (greater than the Southern Hemisphere + India) is controlled by a sociopath, who cannot be removed from his post, and who could be in that role for another 60 years.


Life is so rich,

Scott Galloway

Written by

Professor of Marketing @NYUStern · Founder @L2_digital @redenvelope @prophetBrand · Contributor @bloombergtv Weekly musings: profgalloway.com

No Mercy / No Malice
No Mercy / No Malice

About this COLUMN

No Mercy / No Malice

Each week, bestselling author and business professor Scott Galloway shares his take on success and relationships in a digital economy. Subscribe to No Mercy / No Malice to get weekly musings in your inbox: profgalloway.com

Each week, bestselling author and business professor Scott Galloway shares his take on success and relationships in a digital economy. Subscribe to No Mercy / No Malice to get weekly musings in your inbox: profgalloway.com

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