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Q&A with Mark Zuckerberg's personal pollster

Tavis McGinn applied for a job at Facebook last year hoping to work in market research. He had previo
February 6 · Issue #77 · View online
The Interface
Tavis McGinn applied for a job at Facebook last year hoping to work in market research. He had previously spent three years at Google, where he helped large advertisers refine their marketing campaigns across the company’s family of products. But part way through the interview process at Facebook, the recruiter told McGinn the company had something else in mind for him. How would he like to track the public perception of Mark Zuckerberg?
It was April, and Facebook was caught up in the fallout of the 2016 US presidential election. After initially discounting the possibility that fake news had contributed to Donald Trump’s victory, Facebook acknowledged that Russia-linked groups had spent more than $100,000 on political advertising. Zuckerberg undertook a nationwide listening tour modeled after a modern political campaign. McGinn would fill another role common to political campaigns: leading an ongoing poll operation dedicated to tracking minute changes in Zuckerberg’s public perception.
“It was a very unusual role,” McGinn told me in a story I published today at The Verge. “It was my job to do surveys and focus groups globally to understand why people like Mark Zuckerberg, whether they think they can trust him, and whether they’ve even heard of him. That’s especially important outside of the United States.”
McGinn, who had previously spent three years at Google, elected to leave Facebook after just six months. The reason, he told me, was that he had become worried about the company’s effect on the world. 
“I joined Facebook hoping to have an impact from the inside,” he says. “I thought, here’s this huge machine that has a tremendous influence on society, and there’s nothing I can do as an outsider. But if I join the company, and I’m regularly taking the pulse of Americans to Mark, maybe, just maybe that could change the way the company does business. I worked there for six months and I realized that even on the inside, I was not going to be able to change the way that the company does business. I couldn’t change the values. I couldn’t change the culture. I was probably far too optimistic.”
McGinn came to my attention through a poll he published on LinkedIn that found a significant degree of mistrust in Facebook among respondents. It is a mistrust that he shares, he told me. “I think research can be very powerful, if people are willing to listen,” McGinn says. “But I decided after six months that it was a waste of my time to be there. I didn’t feel great about the product. I didn’t feel proud to tell people I worked at Facebook. I didn’t feel I was helping the world.”
For more details on Facebook’s polling operation, which also measures perceptions about its chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, read my piece at The Verge

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