Mark Zuckerberg is a lot of things--innovative, stubborn, wealthy, young. Articulate he is not. Last week, the Facebook founder went on the record with venture capitalist John Doerr at a summit in Burlingame, California. The conversation drifted quickly to Facebook's recent controversy over the number of children under 13 with accounts and Zuckerberg's views on education.
"In the future, software and technology will enable people to learn a lot from their fellow students," Zuckerberg told the audience, according to Fortune reporter Michael Lev-Ram. Presumably answering a question about the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) mandate that disallows users under the age of 13 to sign up for Facebook--it's unclear exactly what he was responding to in the Fortune report--Zuckerberg hinted that the company may try to challenge the law in the future, "That will be a fight we take on at some point," he said. "My philosophy is that for education you need to start at a really, really young age."
Facebook and privacy beat bloggers blew up over Fortune's assumption that "Zuckerberg is determined to change" America's laws protecting children's privacy. "Minor Controversy: Zuckerberg Wants Young Kids on Facebook" reads the headline at All Things D. "Zuckerberg Wants Kids Under 13 on Facebook" declared Gizmodo's Sam Biddle. "Kids Under 13 Should Use Facebook, Zuckerberg Says" reported Jackie Cohen on All Facebook.
"We're not trying to work on the ability for people under the age of 13 to sign up… That's just not top of the list of things for us to figure out right now," Zuckerberg told the crowd at the e-G8 summit in Paris today explaining that his comments were taken out of context. He continued by basically confirming said out-of-context reports, "…Some time in the future, I think it makes sense to explore that, but we're not working on it right now."
Here are two takeaways from Zuckerberg's latest duel with critics:
Number one: Mark Zuckerberg might need a spokesperson for all future appearances. At the same conference during which Fortune quoted Mark apparently expressing his intent to challenge federal privacy laws, he also expressed how he wished the media wouldn't just pay attention to him but also shine a their spotlight his great team members. Good idea. Facebook's lesser known executives could surely use more credit, and Zuckerberg could definitely stand to spend more time in the shadows.
Number two: The media deserves to be more transparent with its reporting on Facebook. Because the majority of Americans use the service, it's not a surprise that there's a huge demand for coverage of the social network and each pivot they make in their policies, especially privacy. However, as compelling as it may feel to pull the 27 year-old founder and CEO's statements out of context for a sensational headline, creating space for Facebook's better equipped (however still kind of klutzy) communications team to do damage control after the fact only pokes holes in the reports. Zuckerberg sort of flubbed in this attempt to clear the air, but the details of Facebook's global campaign to influence governments' privacy policies are becoming increasingly complex and convoluting the dialogue with hearsay won't always pay off so handsomely.