Zuckerberg Emailed All Employees Telling Them ‘Please Resign,’ ‘Confidential’ Message Leaked on Twitter
There was a leak from the Facebook hive to a tech publication saying Facebook was developing a mobile phone.
Not so, said Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg.
And in denying the content of the leak to TechCrunch, Zuckerberg went ballistic, dashed out an angry email to all hands, and told the leaker to resign, following it with this threat: “If you don’t resign, we will almost certainly find out who you are anyway.”
As a retired business professor, when I see heads of major corporations making major errors I sometimes jokingly tell people: “Why didn’t they take one of my courses?”
With that in mind, class, let’s continue looking at this real-world case.
The Zuckerberg email — under the subject line “Please Resign” — was sent more than a decade ago, but recently came to light on the Twitter account “Internal Tech Emails.”
The story comes in the wake of accounts of Zuckerberg’s dictatorial management and of ongoing workforce reductions at Facebook — now Meta — numbering 21,000 from last fall through the end of this year, according to Reuters.
The leaked information regarding the development of a phone by Facebook came after a 2010 session Zuckerberg had with employees in which he discussed “ways to make all phones and apps more social,” according to his follow-up email.
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“It is frustrating and destructive that anyone here thought (it) was okay to say this to anyone outside the company,” Zuckerberg wrote.
“The fact that the story was innacurate doesn’t make it any better,” he said, lamenting having to spend considerable time “cleaning up the damage from this mess” and assuring cell phone companies Facebook was working with that Zuckerberg’s company would not become a competitor.
By the way, maybe next class we’ll discuss how Jeff Bezos and Amazon like to partner with people and then turn on them and compete with them. But I digress…
“So I’m asking whoever leaked this to resign immediately,” Zuckerberg’s email said. “If you believe that it’s ever appropriate to leak internal information, you should leave. If you don’t resign, we will almost certainly find out who you are anyway.”
The email said Facebook was “a company that promotes openness and transparency, both in the world at large and here internally at Facebook.” (This, of course, was written long before the hordes of Facebook fact-checkers unsuccessfully tried to bottle up major aspects of conspiracy-theories-turned-generally-accepted-truths).
“But the cost of an open culture is that we all have to protect the confidential information we share internally. If we don’t, we screw over everyone working their a***s off to change the world.”
WARNING: The following tweet contains vulgar language that some may find offensive.
Mark Zuckerberg: “Please Resign”
September 22, 2010 pic.twitter.com/3Coz46QFRR
— Internal Tech Emails (@TechEmails) March 19, 2023
Changing the world was big talk from Zuckerberg, but prescient when one reviews Facebook’s role in influencing election results. At any rate, let’s review Zuckerberg’s reaction to the leak and how he might have handled it better.
First, we need to cut the man some slack.
Like so many bright entrepreneurial types, Zuckerberg may be lacking the abilities required to manage a giant corporation. The skill sets of launching a product out of a garage or college dorm room are different from those needed to manage thousands of people and multiple properties.
It’s a common story — intractable manufacturing genius Henry Ford lost his car market leadership to General Motors because in the 1920s Ford thought his ideas in 1912 were still good enough while GM understood the changing times.
Steve Jobs was so off the wall that his company, Apple, fired him until they needed to bring him back to invent revolutionary things like the iPod and the iPhone.
Wise entrepreneurs acknowledge their limitations and when the company grows, they may need to bring in a professional management team.
That said, Zuckerberg did have a real problem — leaked confidential information. So how to handle it?
No doubt Facebook employees, as are many workers, were instructed not to talk with members of the media without permission. No problem with that — it protects the company from just what happened: publicizing erroneous information. Employees also may have to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Perhaps a better way to address the leak would be a generic email reminding employees to keep things confidential. Instead of making a scene, remind people of their obligations, correct the misinformation, then move on.
True, it can be frustrating for a manager when someone has done the wrong thing but if that person is not known and cannot be personally addressed, screaming at the whole team weakens the manager and undercuts morale.
If one must identify the culprit, as in a situation where management learns someone is involved in illegal activity, that can be done discreetly.
Respect for employees, avoidance of an atmosphere of fear, careful discerning of problems, and examining issues on a case-by-case basis can provide a good professional atmosphere.
And it prevents those nasty emails from publicly surfacing more than a dozen years later.