Media To Zuckerberg: “Zuck You”

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Lots of people gushed in the immediate aftermath of the recent Zuckerberg-Chan announcement about their plan to give away their billions, presented on Facebook (duh) as an open letter to their new daughter Maxima, aka the Zuckerbaby. Lots of other people rolled their eyes. As the hot takes have continued to flow in with the force and irrepressibility of lava, though, they’ve gotten more and more negative.

The NYT’s Dealbook column has had perhaps the harshest response I’ve seen, which could be boiled down, with a nod to the song “Gee Officer Krupke” from West Side Story, to “Gee Mr. Zuckerberg: Zuck you.”

Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Chan did not set up a charitable foundation, which has nonprofit status. He created a limited liability company, one that has already reaped enormous benefits as public relations coup for himself. His P.R. return-on-investment dwarfs that of his Facebook stock. Mr. Zuckerberg was depicted in breathless, glowing terms for having, in essence, moved money from one pocket to the other. …

Any time a superwealthy plutocrat makes a charitable donation, the public ought to be reminded that this is how our tax system works. The superwealthy buy great public relations and adulation for donations that minimize their taxes.

I get a certain amount of negativity to balance out those Hosannahs and angel choruses. But the lava is really steaming, to the degree that Zuck has felt compelled to defend himself.

Zuck, some advice: never read the comments, and definitely never wade in there to explain what you were trying to say.

Amy Schiller, writing for The Nation, suggests a more measured response. She has looked at recent history and sees progress, although also still more progress to be made. In other words, nuance!

Two years ago, Zuckerberg-as-philanthropist came off as a detached, arrogant meddler. He had never visited Newark when he made his gift of $100 million to school reform, the team hired with his funds explicitly avoided community input, and their aggressive changes-by-fiat provoked anger and chaos. Today, Zuckerberg has positioned himself as a more thoughtful and personally engaged donor (notably, Chan has also taken a much larger share than ever before of the couple’s public profile.) Their remarks of the past week—no doubt informed by the Newark failure, and crafted by a PR team cautious of those exact criticisms—reflect an understanding that social change is more complex than an infusion of money or aggregation of data alone can fix. …

We should hold Chan and Zuckerberg accountable for addressing problems that they acknowledge as systemically rooted with systemic solutions (i.e., national policy advocacy). But if Chan and Zuckerberg can keep 1 percent of their wealth, surely we can find our 1 percent of victory in this announcement.

Schiller asks, “Can we get a hallelujah? Even a tiny, grudging hallelujah?” I think we can. There are few enough items in the news to Hallelujah these days after all.

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