Moneybox

Things Sure Have Been Awkward Between Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg For a While Now

The apps for Twitter and Facebook side-by-side on a smartphone.
Dorsey and Zuckerberg’s relationship is competitive but cordial.
Denis Charlet/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook revealed a new logo on Monday: an all-caps, multicolored FACEBOOK representing all of its subsidiaries, like WhatsApp and Instagram. Critics panned it as “generic,” “shouty,” and “headache-inducing.” The next day, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey got in his own little dig:

Dorsey has been on a roll over the past month with wry, pointed jabs at Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg. At an Oct. 24 Twitter media event in New York City, Dorsey was asked whether he’d join Facebook’s beleaguered Libra cryptocurrency association. He responded, “Hell no” and then added, “Nothing within Libra had to be a cryptocurrency to do what they wanted to do.” Then, six days later, Dorsey announced in a series of tweets that Twitter would ban all political ads, a clear rejoinder to Facebook’s defense of its controversial practice of exempting such ads from fact checking. One of the posts in the thread announcing the decision was an obvious subtweet of Zuckerberg’s position:

Zuckerberg himself hasn’t sniped back publicly, though he was caught putting down Twitter in an audio recording of an all-hands meeting from this summer, which was leaked in early October. While discussing efforts to tamp down on election interference and hate speech, he said: “[Fragmentation] is why Twitter can’t do as good of a job as we can. I mean, they face, qualitatively, the same types of issues. But they can’t put in the investment. Our investment on safety is bigger than the whole revenue of their company.”

Zuckerberg and Dorsey have long had a competitive yet largely cordial relationship. Though Twitter is much smaller and was founded two years after Facebook, the two companies occupy a similar space in the social media ecosystem.

In fact, Zuckerberg had tried to acquire Twitter in 2008, around two years after it had been founded. According to Vanity Fair correspondent Nick Bilton’s book Hatching Twitter, Dorsey and Zuckerberg were corresponding for months to explore a potential deal. In an email, Zuckerberg implicitly threatened to create a clone of Twitter if Dorsey didn’t sell, a tactic Facebook later deployed against the likes of Snapchat and Twitch. However, Twitter’s board soon ousted Dorsey as CEO, and Zuckerberg instead had to contend with co-founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone, who didn’t go for the deal.

The day after Dorsey was pushed out, he called Zuckerberg to quietly inform him of the news. Zuckerberg offered Dorsey a job and even had him meet with Facebook’s former chief product officer Chris Cox, but the talks fell through. Dorsey went on to found the successful payments processor Square and eventually won back his spot as CEO of Twitter in 2015.

Zuckerberg admitted in 2010 that Twitter was at one point an outsize source of anxiety for him. “I looked at [Twitter’s] growth rate and thought if this continues for 12 months or 18 months, then in a year they’re going to be bigger than us,” he told the Inside Facebook blog at the time, before adding, “but it just turned out that that their growth rate was kind of unnatural. They got a lot of media attention, and it grew very quickly for a little period of time.”

The New Yorker reported that the two CEOs had been regularly dining together in the early 2010s. Zuckerberg cooked the dinners, and they would interrogate each other to get a leg up on technological trends. Dorsey made headlines in January when he told Rolling Stone that Zuckerberg killed a goat with a knife and a stun gun and tried to serve it for a dinner in 2011. “We go in the dining room. He puts the goat down. It was cold. That was memorable. I don’t know if it went back in the oven. I just ate my salad,” Dorsey recalled. (Zuckerberg had pledged to only eat meat he’d killed himself for a year in order to better understand the source of his food.)

Dorsey and Zuckerberg went head-to-head in 2012 over Instagram. Dorsey, who was friendly with Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom, tried out a trial version of the fledgling app and quickly became a fan, using it to post photos on Twitter. Dorsey put in a bid for Twitter to buy Instagram, but the company spurned him. Zuckerberg then swooped in and doubled Twitter’s offer, and Instagram became a subsidiary of Facebook. Dorsey told Vanity Fair in 2013 that he was “heartbroken” about the deal and the fact that Systrom hadn’t contacted him about the acquisition.

It seems that Zuckerberg and Dorsey have been, at best, frenemies—willing to rub shoulders but also jab elbows. Yet Dorsey’s recent comments seems to be one of the first times that he’s been willing to bring the competitive aspect of their relationship into the public eye. Awkward—though maybe not as awkward as serving someone freshly knifed goat.