Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is in his second day of submitting to politicians’ questions about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and frankly a lot of it has started to blend together: data, moral responsibility, privacy, blah blah blah. But my ears perked up Wednesday morning when Zuckerberg, answering a question from California Rep. Doris Matsui about who really owns the data Facebook uses to target advertising, said something about muffins:
Congresswoman, I disagree with that because one core tenet of our advertising system is that we don’t sell data to advertisers. Advertisers don’t get access to your data. There is a core misunderstanding about how that system works, which is that—let’s say if you are a shop and you are selling muffins, right, you might want to target people in a specific town who might be interested in baking or some demographic, but we don’t send that information to you, we just show the message to the right people and that’s a really important, I think, common misunderstanding of how the system works.
What’s this, Mark? Muffins??? Let’s hear more about these muffins! Are they chocolate chip? Poppy seed? Apple cinnamon? If you could explain absolutely everything about Facebook harvesting data in terms of muffins, well, that would be fine with me!
Sadly, Zuckerberg did not say much more about baked goods for people who really just want to be eating cake in the morning, maybe because he realized the limits of the analogy. (But one question: Why would he target the muffins to people interested in baking when it is the people who don’t bake who need access to muffins most of all????) While muffins are a lot like Facebook in that even though they are bad for me and I consume them anyway because I enjoy the little sugar rush they provide to my system, the risks around our muffin data being scraped by bad actors and upending democracy are basically nil. It’s like Zuckerberg was trying to be relatable—everyone loves muffins!—but is not really familiar with the concept of selling an actual product that is not the promise of connectivity obscuring a business model centered on harvesting data from users.
Invoking muffins at all may have been an unforced error, since 30 Rock’s “Muffin Top” song and several Seinfeld plotlines have established muffins as an extremely comedic food. Basically, any time you mention the word muffin, the chances of what you’re saying sounding like memorable, rousing, Sorkin–esque speech decrease demonstrably. So Mark, the next time you need to put a complicated issue in easy-to-understand terms, you should probably reconsider before you attempt to whisper sweet muffins.