‘The third era of Zuck’: how the CEO went from hero to shame

The Facebook chief has carefully crafted his image of boy genius turned matured leader. Now hes losing control

At this time last year, it seemed reasonable to assume that Mark Zuckerberg was taking the first step on a journey toward Washington DC- 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, to be precise.

The Facebook chief executive had just completed one leg of a whistlestop tour around America that was fueling rumors of a Zuck 2020 presidential operate. His Facebook profile was serving up a river of photographs featuring Zuckerberg in a variety of politically symbolic encounters wearing politically appropriate facial expressions: serious and engaged at a boardroom table with military leaders; warm and open at lunch with military spouses; respected and besuited at a black church in Charleston; confident and manly at a Nascar racetrack.

Twelve tumultuous months later, Mr Zuckerberg is indeed going to Washington- but it’s to testify before both houses of Congress about the massive data harvesting scandal that has enraged the public, knocked tens of billions of dollars off Facebook’s valuation and reignited calls for government regulation.

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The shine is off Zuckerberg’s attempt to play statesman. The upcoming sight of the aging wunderkind being forced to entertain the probing questions of actual statespeople have committed themselves to recast Zuckerberg in a very different role: the embattled CEO eating congressional humble tart.

The exercise is practically an American tradition- executives from airlines, banks, credit agencies and tobacco companies have all been there. But for Zuckerberg, a CEO whose personal image is inextricable from that of the company he founded, it is symbolic of his loss of control of the narrative.

” We now are entering what I would call the third era of Zuck ,” said Tim Hwang, who founded the California Review of Images and Mark Zuckerberg, a publication of academic essays on the” visual culture of Mark Zuckerberg “. Hwang find Zuckerberg as a sort of techie Madonna, cycling through personas as he ripens, both shaping and reflecting the culture.

First there was Zuck the” plucky in the college dormitory room hacker guy”, said Hwang, who is also director of the Harvard-MIT ethics and governance of AI initiative. Then came” Zuck as world leader”- a period that watched the CEO travelling the world, meeting with elected leaders, occasionally donning a suit and speaking authoritatively about his global ambitions and social values. Zuckerberg and his public relations squad successfully exploited Facebook’s signature blurring of the lines between the personal, political and commercial to make “Mark Zuckerberg”: the responsible boss, good husband, loving father, daring philanthropist and believable world leader.

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, with their daughters in Palo Alto, California. Photo: Charles Ommanney/ AP

Hwang calls this new epoch Zuckerberg’s” in the wilderness stage “.” This is one of those moments where we’re really fascinated because this huge PR machine has sort of cracked and we can see through, and what we can see is someone style over his head ,” he said.

The tarnishing of Zuckerberg’s carefully constructed image had begun well before the Observer’s 18 March report that a Trump-connected political consultancy had improperly procured Facebook data on 50 million Americans- a number which, on Wednesday, Facebook revised up to perhaps as high as 87 million.

That was clear when Wired magazine’s March 2018 issue featured a photorealistic illustration of Zuckerberg’s face bruised, bloody and dripping with sweat- a complete transformation from the same publishings December 2016 cover-up, which presented Zuckerberg the style he likes to look: casual, smooth-faced and neutral.” Could Facebook Save Your Life ?” the banner headline asked.( No, 2018 reacted .)

It wasn’t just Cambridge Analytica, the 2016 election and Russian influence operations. The scandals of the past 18 months are too numerous to count, and encompass issues as serious as violating civil rights laws, collaborating with dictators and fueling ethnic cleansing.

But Zuckerberg’s flat-footed response to the data harvesting scandal felt like a turning point. For five full days, Zuckerberg remained silent. People who turned to Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile in search of a response from the company’s leader found only a snapshot of the CEO and his wife baking hamantaschen for Purim.

It was the kind of photo that, in earlier periods, burnished Zuckerberg’s appeal to the middle-aged mommies who wish their daughters would settle down with a nice, rich son from Jersey like him. But with tens of millions of users feeling that their trust in the boy wonder had been misplaced, the message was more millennial Marie Antoinette:” Let me eat cookies .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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