- Mark Zuckerberg is conducting interviews on Facebook with political and public health leaders about the pandemic.
- The public-service-style broadcasts are unlike anything that most other tech company leaders are doing.
- The interviews with California governor Gavin Newsom and epidemiologist Anthony Fauci turn Zuckerberg into ever-more of a media figure.
- Facebook has launched a slew of features aimed at helping people during the pandemic, which may help to repair its battered reputation.
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As the coronavirus pandemic has engulfed the world, Mark Zuckerberg has thrown himself into getting the word out — personally.
Over the past few weeks, Facebook has made a slew of changes aimed at promoting reliable information around the COVID-19 outbreak that as of Thursday has sickened more than a million people and killed more than 51,000 around the world, and the company’s 35-year-old CEO has also taken an unusually public role in its response.
Over the past few weeks, Zuckerberg has conducted online video interviews with political and public health leaders on Facebook’ Live, discussing the current state of the pandemic and best practices for public health. In mid-March, he talked to Anthony Fauci, director of the US Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, where they discussed the threat of coronavirus and how Americans can protect themselves.
And on Monday, he and his wife Priscilla Chan talked to California governor Gavin Newsom about the status of the virus in the western state and steps the governor’s office has been taking.
These interviews have been notable in what they don’t discuss as much as what they do — the work of Facebook and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Zuckerberg’s philanthropic vehicle, are rarely mentioned, as Zuckerberg has focused almost exclusively on broader messages around public health.
In doing so, the billionaire chief executive has taken on a far more public role in combatting the pandemic than the leaders of rival tech companies. Google CEO Sundar Pichai is not popping up on YouTube to interview epidemiologists; Twitter’s Jack Dorsey is not running livestreams on his social network about how to protect yourself.
And at a time when criticism of Facebook’s business and privacy practices have risen, Zuckerberg’s turn as a reliable source of coronavirus information provides an opportunity for the chief executive to revamp his public image.
In fact, Zuckerberg’s unconventional efforts seem more akin to a talk show host than a tech executive, as he leverages the reach afforded by his 116 million followers on Facebook to turn himself into a kind of public service broadcaster. (His broadcasting also makes Facebook feel more like a media organisation producing editorial content — despite its years of protestations that it is nothing of the sort.)
Facebook has pushed out a string of product changes as the coronavirus outbreak has ballooned — including an information center to provide reliable info about the virus a feature to connect people to members of their local community in need of help — as well as offering financial relief to disrupted businesses.
This bevvy of proactive changes — as well as Zuckerberg’s personal touch — may help to burnish Facebook’s reputation, which as been sorely bruised by years of scandals.
In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said: “As the coronavirus impacts communities around the world, we’re focused on connecting people to accurate, authoritative information however we can, whether that’s through products like the COVID-19 Information Center and the WHO Health Alert on WhatsApp, or through conversations Mark is having with government and health officials on his Facebook page.”
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