Defending the Most Hated Man in America  

Jim Woods

Jim Woods has over 20 years of experience in the markets from working as a stockbroker, financial journalist, and money manager.

“When both sides of the political aisle are gunning for your company, you know you are doing something right.”

This Wall Street maxim is one that I created a few years ago, and I created it for times when seemingly the entire world has its sights trained on one company and/or one individual. Today, that company is Facebook, Inc. (NASDAQ:FB), and that individual is the company’s not-so-sympathetic billionaire founder and CEO, and what appears to be the most hated man in America, Mark Zuckerberg. 

Indeed, there’s been a deluge of negative press on Facebook over the past several days, including the revelations of a Facebook whistleblower, first on “60 Minutes” Sunday and then in front of a Senate subcommittee Tuesday. 

That Senate subcommittee hearing, which was revealingly titled “Protecting Kids Online: Testimony from a Facebook Whistleblower,” also happened to coincide with an outage of approximately six hours on the Facebook platforms, which include both Instagram and WhatsApp. 

Now, here is another Jim Woods maxim: “Whenever the government wants to intervene in the lives of free people, it does so in the name of protecting kids.”

So, yesterday, after the testimony of Frances Haugen, the admittedly well-spoken whistleblower, and again this morning, I read an orgy of opinions from both conservative and liberal voices about how Facebook needs to be regulated, how Congress needs to intervene and pass legislation to “rein in” the company, force it to reveal its algorithms designed to target content to users and how we need to create new antitrust laws to “break up” Facebook in the name of greater competition. 

The subcommittee co-chair, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), did his best to conflate Facebook with another so-called “evil” industry, by saying, “Facebook and Big Tech are facing a Big Tobacco moment.” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) used similar language, saying, “The children of America are hooked on their product.” 

Yet it’s interesting to find out what all the fuss was about, as Haugen’s revelations were, to me, and I say this with all sincerity… no big deal. 

First, she said that Facebook and Zuckerberg put profits before “safety,” whatever that means. Even Haugen had little concrete information regarding that, but that didn’t stop her from making the accusation. Here again, “protecting kids” from their own free choices to use a legal product is somehow now endangering their safety. 

Oh, and as a Facebook shareholder (which you are, too, if you own any big equity mutual fund, exchange-traded fund (ETF) or investment that has exposure to the tech sector, the S&P 500 or Nasdaq 100), I demand that the company be first and foremost concerned with maximizing profits. 

It’s not only the company’s fiduciary duty to do so, it also is the reason why any investor would choose to own the stock. So, as long as nothing illegal is occurring, which as far as we know is the case, then I want Zuckerberg and Facebook to continue to ruthlessly maximize shareholder value. 

Yet perhaps the biggest “bombshell” in the testimony, and the one that has outraged parents, pundits and Facebook critics around the globe, is Haugen’s disclosure that some of Facebook’s internal research showed teenagers, especially teen girls, felt negative after using Instagram. 

Hmmm, so the big reveal here is that negative feelings such as loneliness, insecurity, inadequacy, issues over looks, body image and social competition with peers among teenage girls is somehow new? 

I have a newsflash for anyone out there who didn’t know this, but being insecure and having negative feelings is just a fact of being a teenager. That’s true whether you are a male or female teen. 

I mean, don’t you remember? I am in my fifties, and I still remember those teen angst years vividly — and I wasn’t even a social outcast. 

Now, does social media and the constant craving of attention in the form of new “likes” and approval from peers represent a prescription for exacerbating teen angst? Probably. 

But does that mean that Congress should come in and tell a private company how they can run their business so as to minimize the growing pains of teens? I think not. 

What this entire episode tells me is that parents, teachers and those responsible for raising children should make a concerted effort to help kids rationally cope with the inherent aches of growing up. And the key concept here is “rationally,” because a child not equipped with proper reason and proper critical thinking tools is much more likely to succumb to the negative feelings that surround him/her.

Finally, I would just like to say that I am tired of people from both sides of the political aisle trying to blame “Big Tech” in general and Mark Zuckerberg specifically for their failure to get the societal results they desire. 

Keep in mind that the battle of ideas has been raging for millennia, and parents have been raising children for much longer, but Facebook has only been around since 2004. 

So, I implore those who want societal change to refrain from blaming Facebook and other social media and Big Tech giants for their own failure to adequately make the case for their ideas. 

It’s not the media that’s the problem, it’s your message.

***********************************************************

A Thirst-Quenching Conversation

The Way of the Renaissance Man podcast is all about conversations with interesting people who have a true passion for what they do.

In the latest episode, I speak with just such a person, and she is Nermine Rubin, Founder & CEO of Water 4 Mercy.

Water 4 Mercy is a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide a “One-Two-Three Solution” to permanently end thirst, hunger and poverty in our world.

Through the use of innovative technologies and partners, and with a whole lot of love and passion, Water 4 Mercy provides clean water, agriculture and educational solutions to areas in Africa that need it most.

In this interview, you will see for yourself how passion, dedication and knowledge can be focused to solve a very serious problem. And in doing so, you’ll see how one person can spearhead a movement that makes the world a better place.

I really enjoyed this heartfelt conversation with Nermine Rubin, and I suspect you will too.

*****************************************************************

Seeing With Better Eyes 

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

— Henry David Thoreau

When we truly look at the world from a deeper, philosophic perspective, we tend to see things more for what they are rather than just what they appear to be on the surface. Indeed, the wise man needs to do what Thoreau recommends here, and that is to learn to see with better eyes. So, dig deeper. The more you look, the better you will see. 

Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.

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This article is the third in a series exploring equal-weight ETFs. Last week’s column provided insight into a non-financial equal-weight exchange-traded fund (ETF), while this one can be considered a counterpoint. This w

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