"So, like, you can't even give me his password? What about Warren's?" President Donald J. Trump welcomes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, to the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Joiyce N. Boghosian)

Facebook’s well-timed leak

Mark Zuckerberg’s remarkably calm reaction to a leaked recording of his thoughts about Libra and Sen. Elizabeth Warren may have something to do with good timing

Just as Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency project is facing defections from its biggest and most important partners, a recording of Mark Zuckerberg was “leaked” where he said all the right things. Coincidence?

Facebook has been under relentless attack by political leaders and regulators around the world since word of its proposed stablecoin broke on June 18. Between distrust of the social network’s record on privacy and fears that its 2.7 billion messaging app users could instantly challenge the supremacy of leading fiat currencies like the dollar and euro, a political tide is rising against Libra.

What’s more, on October 1 the Wall Street Journal broke the news that the two biggest and most prestigious traditional financial firms in the Libra Association—Visa and Mastercard—are getting cold feet. Bloomberg soon added Libra’s main FinTech partner PayPal into the mix, along with Irish payments firm Stripe.

That same day, respected tech news source The Verge went public with a recording of an internal employee Q&A session Zuckerberg held back in July. It’s a big scoop, and one that has gotten Zuckerberg’s words picked up widely across the news and social media spectrum.

In it, he addressed Libra in a way that would bring a smile to his marketing team’s faces. Phrases like “socially important,” “a more consultative approach,” and “engagement with regulators” rolled trippingly off his tongue.

More broadly, Zuckerberg’s leaked remarks used Libra as a way of portraying a company intent on changing the growing public perception problems it is facing around the world by being more open and transparent.

“[W]hat we’re trying to do overall on these big projects now that touch very socially important aspects of society is have a more consultative approach,” Zuckerberg said. “So not just show up and say, ‘Alright, here we’re launching this. Here’s a product, your app got updated, now you can start buying Libras and sending them around.’ We want to make sure. We get that there are real issues.”

There was a bone for the regulators, too. Noting that “private engagement” with them is often “more substantive and less dramatic,” Zuckerberg added, “that’s where a lot of the discussions and details get hashed out on things. So, this is going to be a long road. We kind of expected this—that this is what big engagement looks like.”

And thanks to that leak, every media outlet from Fox Business to the New York Times reported on Facebook’s spin.

A convenient leak

It’s interesting that Zuckerberg did not seem very upset by the leak to The Verge, which pulled off a major coup with the transcript.

Linking to The Verge’s story on his Facebook page, Zuckerberg called it, “an unfiltered version of what I’m thinking and telling employees on a bunch of topics like social responsibility, breaking up tech companies, Libra, neural computing interfaces, and doing the right thing over the long term.”

This, despite a corporate focus on leaks that one former employee described to The Guardian as being combated by “Mark Zuckerberg’s secret police.”

Referring to a furious reaction to similar incident at Google in 2018, Business Insider called Zuckerberg’s “unusual reaction” to this leak “all the more remarkable.”

Then again, that the same convenient timing applies to Zuckerberg’s recorded comments about Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign promise to break up big tech firms like Facebook and Google. Attention to that has been growing steadily in the last couple of months, and it’s the part of the leak that the mainstream media focused on most heavily.

Saying that a Warren presidency would “suck for us” as it would likely lead to a big antitrust lawsuit, Zuckerberg also sought to calm the waters by saying he was confident the company would win. 

He returned to the PR-speak when given a softball question about how employees could help improve Facebook’s image within their own circles. Noting that “humanizing stuff is always really important,” Zuckerberg said that he’s focused more substance and results than perception. 

“And I think we don’t have that luxury anymore,” he noted. 

He added that, “some of the most devastating critique is not around substance in terms of what the companies do. it’s around a motive… 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. So that’s one thing that you all will be well-suited to do as ambassadors.”

What more could the PR department ask for?

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Leo Jakobson, Modern Consensus editor-in-chief, is a New York-based journalist who has traveled the world writing about incentive travel. He has also covered consumer and employee engagement, small business, the East Coast side of the Internet boom and bust, and New York City crime, nightlife, and politics. Disclosure: Jakobson has put some 401k money into Grayscale Bitcoin Trust.