“I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks.” In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, that’s how Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes summed up Mark Zuckerberg’s actions as CEO of Facebook. It was growth–the quest for being bigger at any cost–that led to scandals around our data privacy and democracy.
Coincidently, the same week Hughes published this argument, the new media artist Ben Grosser released a project that deals with the exact same topic. Called Order of Magnitude, it’s a 47-minute-long video of Zuckerberg offering metrics of growth, and the promise for more. And that’s it. It’s a supercut of Zuckerberg selling the same pitch over and over again, as he ages from collegiate whiz kid to wizened entrepreneur.
All in all, the clips were taken from 14 years of footage, between 2004 and 2018. “Of course I had expectations of how extensive his articulation of a deep desire for growth would be, but it exceeded what I expected,” Grosser laughs. “I guess fittingly, the scale of this work kept growing and growing.”
Grosser, who is an artist and professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is currently showing the piece at the Arebyte Gallery in London. It’s also available for anyone to watch through Vimeo.
The project took a total of five months to complete. Grosser started the process by reading through the Zuckerberg Files, an archive of the CEO’s videos, with transcripts, run by the University of Wisconsin.
“The videos they’ve archived are super low quality–in some cases those are the best available…but it was a great starting point to see what’s out there,” says Grosser. Then he hunted down a clean source of every Zuckerberg video in existence. Grosser estimates he watched 400 to 500 videos in all, which often involved some sleuthing. For instance, a BBC special might showcase a few seconds of unique footage–and then Grosser would chase down the full interview. Occasionally, he would just reach an impasse, unable to locate specific videos he knows existed.
“You would think that something like the F8 keynotes would be one of the easiest things to find, but the truth is, that’s not the case. It appears someone has tried to scrub some F8 keynotes from the internet,” says Grosser. “A good example is the 2007 keynote, the keynote Zuckerberg gave. It’s a video that appears to be produced by Facebook. It’s multi-camera, has a feed directly of the slides, and it fades nicely in and out. When you go to look for it, it’s not on an English-language website anymore. It’s not on YouTube. It’s not on Facebook. The only way I found it was searching Chinese-language internet sites–and I found a really bad copy of it.”
One video Grosser still hasn’t tracked down was Zuckerberg’s launch of the early advertising platform called Facebook Beacon, which promised to track user activity across the web and feed that information into Facebook itself to serve better ads. Beacon was highly controversial at the time, and led to a major petition and class action lawsuit. Zuckerberg would go so far as to call Beacon a mistake in 2011 (to some extent, this sort of blanketed ad tracking and targeting is exactly what’s made Facebook such a valuable company today–Facebook controls roughly half of the online ad market specifically through tracking users even when outside of Facebook itself).
“I haven’t researched why it vanished or anything,” says Grosser of Zuckerberg’s announcement of Beacon on stage in New York in 2007. “But it doesn’t seem likely to me that whomever posted these all over the internet decided to remove them on their own.”
Order of Magnitude is not Grosser’s first piece of Facebook commentary. Back in 2012, he launched a Chrome plug-in called Facebook Demetricator, which took all metrics, like Facebook’s infamous likes, off your view of the website. He received a trademark violation claim for the work from Facebook, which got it pulled from distribution. But the Electronic Frontier Foundation provided legal counsel, which led Google to reinstate the plug-in.
In any case, Grosser agrees that it’s all a bit ironic in hindsight, given that Facebook-owned Instagram is now experimenting with a version of the service that hides likes from followers. But there’s little doubt that an Instagram feed without the dopamine drip of likes would be better for everyone.