Roger McNamee Says Facebook Executives Deserve Criminal Charges And Jail

  • Longtime Facebook investor Roger McNamee called for criminal investigations into the company at the Web Summit.
  • His call, echoed by others, shows that the tech world is in open revolt against its main platforms.
  • Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs at Meta, defended Facebook at the conference.

When longtime Facebook investor Roger McNamee took the stage and called for six different Facebook criminal investigations and jail time for any leader found responsible, it became clear that this year’s Web Summit would be different. from previous iterations of the annual Lisbon Technology Conference. .

Normally, Web Summit is a largely apolitical gathering of tech startup founders, software nerds, hackers, and venture capitalists who want to give them money.

The conference is huge – 80,000 people in some years – and it spans four days along the coast of the Portuguese capital. Usually the gossip is about initial public offerings, ‘scaling up’, reviews and ‘exits’.

Not this time. The tech world is now in open revolt against its own big platforms. This year, Facebook is the # 1 public enemy. Social networks are now the devil. Much of the discussion among the attendees revolves around how to kill social media, regulate Google, or get around them both.

The conference was officially opened by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who told the audience of 20,000 people at the center of the stage that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg should step down.

“They were putting lives at risk… Facebook is currently prioritizing content in the news feed, which has the side effect of prioritizing and amplifying the most extreme and controversial content,” she said. declared.

She cited Ethiopia as an example. He is currently undergoing a civil war that could overthrow his government.

The “weakest” countries do not have artificially smart moderation capable of automatically removing toxic content, as Facebook prioritizes English and its American users over everyone else, she said. .

In Ethiopia, “where ethnic violence is currently taking place,” there are 100 million people who speak six languages ​​and 95 dialects. Moderation of content “does not adapt to the most fragile places in the world”.

The participants gave him a huge round of applause.

The next day, McNamee had a fireside chat with Guardian reporter Jane Martinson in front of an audience of around 1,000. McNamee has been complaining about Facebook for years, of course.

But Haugen’s leak of thousands of internal Facebook documents to the Wall Street Journal and other news outlets gave McNamee a new moment in the limelight. McNamee’s Elevation Partners invested $ 210 million in Facebook before its IPO in 2011. McNamee didn’t start selling its stake until 2019, according to the New Yorker.

Between these two periods, Facebook’s value roughly quadrupled. At one point, he was Zuckerberg’s mentor.

“I think there are at least six areas where criminal investigations are warranted,” he told the public:

  • The United States Securities and Exchange Commission should investigate Facebook’s failure to disclose information about its activities.
  • Facebook allowed human trafficking on its platform and was “paid to make it happen”
  • Facebook management was “complicit” in the “Stop the Steal” campaign that led to the January 6 insurgency on Capitol Hill.
  • The company is under investigation by the Texas state attorney general over whether Facebook has worked with Google to set prices. “The standard sentence for this is three and a half years in prison for all executives and this is the most egregious case of price fixing in the United States in decades,” he blasted.
  • (McNamee did not give details of the other two investigations he said are warranted.)

These speeches were not isolated incidents.

Before McNamee spoke, football legend Thierry Henry told the public he abandoned all of his social media accounts earlier this year because he was tired of the racist abuse he received from them. “When you find out that they generate money out of hate, it’s very difficult when your medicine is your poison,” he said.

And in a conversation with Insider, DJ Sam Feldt – who is also the founder of Fangage, a promotional software platform for artists and musicians – said one of his main motivations for starting the business was his growing distance from Facebook.

“At one point I had a million subscribers, but I also realized that the more subscribers I had, the fewer people I reached because of the algorithms. So my reach is restricted by Mark Zuckerberg in Silicon Valley… I would assume if you have a million followers on your Facebook page, the number of people you reach increases.

“But no, basically right now it’s around 2%,” he said. “I’m sick of social media, which limits the way I can chat with my friends.”

a photo of DJ Sam Feldt the founder of Fangage

DJ Sam Feldt, the founder of Fangage.


In the olden days – before the pandemic – visitors to the Web Summit used the word ‘disruption’ to describe how they wanted their apps and coding to replace physical industries (think Airbnb vs. hotel chains) or old treasury companies ( Uber versus taxis).

This year, in conversations with half a dozen conference attendees, the same theme came up over and over again: How to Disrupt Facebook and Google. Or abandon them, or undermine them, or avoid them, or block them, or otherwise replace their businesses with more ethical software.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, the former senior vice president of advertising and commerce at Google, told Insider in late 2017 when he realized he wanted to step down after 15 years there. A tabloid newspaper had published a headline accusing YouTube of having broadcast advertisements against child pornography.

“There was a lot of horrible content on YouTube and there were ads running against the horrible content. I remember the day,” he said. “I was like, ‘I’m so done with this job.'”

He was careful to add that he didn’t believe the tabloid story was accurate. However, he was fed up with defending Google: “You want to have dignity in your job,” he said.

head photo of Sridhar Ramaswamy, the former senior vice president of advertising and commerce at Google

Sridhar Ramaswamy, former senior vice president of advertising and commerce at Google.


Ramaswamy is now the co-founder and CEO of Neeva, a subscription-only search engine that offers a more private, ad-free service through quality rankings, not engagement.

Commitment is the problem, not the solution, he said. Engagement-based ecosystems reward the worst players on any platform because their horrible behavior gets the most attention. “It is this combination of the relentless pursuit of attention that the advertising model has produced. An endless quest for more time and more attention.”

In a quiet behind-the-scenes conversation after his speech, McNamee told Insider that engagement coupled with anonymity were the two main poisons emitted by social media.

“Historically, anonymity has given trolls enormous power in relation to their numbers… [and yet] you can target them perfectly [with ads]. And then you create economic incentives for the more emotionally extreme voices, right? “

Nick Clegg, former British Deputy Prime Minister and now vice president of global affairs for Facebook’s parent company, Meta, appeared at the conference via a video screen in defense of the company.

Facebook didn’t want hate propaganda on its platform any more than anyone else, he said. “The people who pay to generate these ads – the advertisers – don’t want this content next to us.… Users won’t continue to use our products if they have a bad experience.”

Nick Clegg at the Web Summit

Meta Vice President for Global Affairs Nick Clegg seen speaking at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal.

Jim Edwards / Insider

“For every 10,000 bits of content you see on the News Feed, only five will be hate speech,” Clegg said.

Haugen, speaking earlier, agreed that only a small number of people on Facebook are at the root of most “integrity issues.” But that doesn’t mean these issues are minimal, she said, as their commitment is higher than everyone’s.

“Engagement based ranking is dangerous because right now the most extreme content trumps this run. It’s like the viral variant factors and which are going to be the most extreme.” and the most polarizing are the ones that get the most audiences. “

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