Axiosa site known for political analysis and heavy use of bullet points has joined the ranks of pundits pandering to Mark Zuckerberg PR strategy. Meta’s CEO, they claim (as was an original headline) “has a PR moment” that “casts a halo effect on the company itself.” That’s obviously not true, but let’s put it in a format that’s more likely to reach On Axios audience.

The big picture: Zuckerberg’s recent publicity stunt is neither out of character nor a sign of a newly restored image. In fact, Metta and Zuckerberg are staring at one of the biggest crises they’ve ever faced.

Why it matters: Extolling the PR strategy of a giant company that is credibly accused of enabling various mass harms is irresponsible at best, even if that PR strategy worked – which it didn’t.

  • Describing competitors’ products as inferior is exactly what executives should be doing. Zero points awarded.

  • Meta CEO responding to some of his social media comments isn’t a sign of radical authenticity, it’s an engagement ploy.

  • Saying you’ve “never seen Zuckerberg,” who as far as we know is a living, breathing human, “act like… real” is an amazingly low bar to pass!

To recap here, Meta is embroiled in a massive lawsuit from nearly every state for the myriad ways it allegedly harmed its youngest users. And Zuckerberg’s actions, or lack thereof, are at the heart of many of these claims. Court documents revealed that the executive director personally intervened to block a proposed ban on plastic surgery filters on Instagram despite advice from experts that these effects could exacerbate body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Under his leadership, Meta turned a blind eye to children using its platform, against its own policies, and did little to stop adults from sexually harassing children. Under his leadership, Instagram’s recommendation algorithm promoted child sexual exploitation content and connected “wide pedophile network”. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg repeatedly rejected or ignored requests from his top lieutenants to invest more in safety. His lawyers were there last week federal court arguing that he should not be held personally liable in dozens of lawsuits for the harm his platforms allegedly caused.

The most popular moments from Zook’s congressional testimony, which Axios oddly suggesting it was good for his image, was a moment when he stuttered to apologize to the families of children who were victims of online exploitation on the platforms he controlled. One parent in the room I described it as “forced”. The second most viral moment was Sen. Ted Cruz pointing to a poster of a warning screen on the Instagram app that indicated that search results may “contain images of child sexual abuse” and that also provided the option to “view the results anyway “.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) points as he speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the online sexual exploitation of children at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 31, 2024. REUTERS/Nathan Howard

Reuters / Reuters

Needless to say, Zuckerberg and his executives are shrewd enough to know that none of this is good for the public image of the world’s fourth-richest man. That Zuckerberg was particularly eager to share his odd hobbies and newfound love of the Japanese McDonald’s is not at all surprising. The distraction is a timeworn PR move, but no amount of light-hearted Instagram posts can dull a headline like: “Meta staff found that Instagram’s tool allowed for the exploitation of children. The company still went ahead.”

This isn’t a new strategy for Zuckerberg, either. While it’s true, he was once painfully awkward and a lot sweaty public speaker, he has long since shed that image. And he has gone through several different versions of himself. He spent much of 2017 on a listening tour from visiting US farms and factories and the dinner tables of random families (many of whom happened to live in swing states, nurturing speculation that he’s considering moving into politics.) And well, political touring is kind of what he’s been doing: Zuckerberg reportedly had a pollster whose full-time job was tracking public perception of his often alien behavior. One such sociologist is reported to have quit after just six months, believing that the company is bad for society. Mark’s favorability in various public surveys varies widely bad to extremely, funny, irreparable bad.

This is far from the first time Mark has tried to distract the public with a personal hobby, only for his inability to relate to the average human experience to result in a swift and spectacular faceplant. Take for example his scandalous backyard grill Facebook Live from 2017, where he managed to say the word “meat” 13 times over the course of 30 painfully long minutes. It was awkward, but not as weird as the time Mark allegedly challenged himself to only eat meat from animals he killed himself, leading to a point where he allegedly turned a live goat into a dead one with a “laser gun and then with the knife,” According to former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. (And like a true rich weirdo, he chose to learn how to end an animal’s life, but, according to Dorsey’s same recollection, outsourced the slaughter to someone else.) Perhaps more successfully, in 2019, he seems to have found love you are of foiling — which is like a wakeboard, but dumber and much more expensive.

In short, Zuckerberg isn’t reinventing himself so much as simply remixing the same PR formula he’s been using for years, especially when his company is in some sort of disaster, which it always seems to be. His people try hard to make him seem like a normal person through a combination of carefully curated social media posts, photos and conversations with media personalities. It’s a strategy that will continue to work on a handful of gullible people. At least until some of these media personalities — like Axios CEO Mike Allen — tend to call men like Mark Zuckerberg “genuine, bold, and reckless.”