Amazon and Facebook: Family members speak out

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos's wife MacKenzie defends Bezos and Amazon, while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckberg's sister Randi expresses ambivalence about social media.

Evan Agostini/AP
Jeff (r.) and MacKenzie (l.) Bezos arrive at the 2012 Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute gala benefit.

It’s not that often that we hear about MacKenzie Bezos and Randi Zuckerberg

But both relatives of online entrepreneurs – MacKenzie is wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Randi is sister of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – have recently inserted themselves into the national spotlight, and national controversy, via books.

The result is an intriguing perspective on two of the most influential businesses in the world.

Mrs. Bezos, a novelist whose marriage to Jeff Bezos preceded the birth of Amazon, yesterday posted a one-star review of Brad Stone’s “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon,” a much-publicized biography of the Amazon founder.

In a 922-word review, she describes “The Everything Store” as “a lopsided and misleading portrait of the people and culture at Amazon.”

“I have firsthand knowledge of many of the events,” she writes. “Everywhere I can fact check from personal knowledge, I find way too many inaccuracies, and unfortunately that casts doubt over every episode in the book,” she adds.

 She knocks author Stone, a reporter with Bloomberg Businessweek and former reporter with the New York Times, for using words like “Bezos believed” and “Bezos felt” without ever having interviewed the Amazon CEO. She also says the book uses techniques that “stretch the boundaries of non-fiction.”

The review got so much press that both Amazon and the book’s publisher, Little, Brown, released statements. Reagan Arthur of Little, Brown, told the New York Times the book was “scrupulously sourced and reported,” and had been “reviewed widely and praised for its evenhandedness.” An Amazon spokesperson responded that Stone "had every opportunity to thoroughly fact check and bring a more balanced viewpoint to his narrative, but he was very secretive about the book and simply chose not to."

Clearly, MacKenzie Bezos has firsthand knowledge – as well as significant bias.

But while she uses that to defend her husband, Randi Zuckerberg uses the same intimacy to warn of the dangers of social media such as Facebook.

In two new books, Ms. Zuckerberg, who worked at Facebook as a marketing director for six years, suggests adults and children alike should limit their use of social media such as Facebook. 

“Dot Complicated: How to make it through life online in one piece,” has been described as “a cross between memoir and how-to guide,” and shares its name with a newsletter Zuckerberg started. It addresses issues of privacy, social identity, authenticity, and crowd-sourcing, according to a report by the UK’s Guardian.

The second is a children’s book simply titled “Dot,” about a young girl named Dot who discovers the pleasures of the outdoors when her mother confiscates her tablet, cell phone, and other electronic devices.

“Dot is a spunky little girl, obsessed with electronic devices,” reads the book’s blurb. “Dot knows a lot. She knows how to tap ... to swipe ... to share ... online, but she pays little attention to anything else.”

Nonetheless, while “Dot” and “Dot Complicated” advise taking breaks from social media (“Just because we have a megaphone doesn’t mean we need to shout from it all the time,” and “Just because you can document your every waking moment doesn’t mean you should,” Zuckerberg writes) they don’t quite throw Facebook or its founder under the bus.

“Zuckerberg regards living mostly online as normal,” according to a NYTimes review of the books, and “warns those whom she calls ‘Facebook refuseniks’ that they are courting social isolation....”

In fact, Randi Zuckerberg is currently founder and chief executive of Zuckerberg Media, and travels the world extolling social media as a major force for good, one that helps connect people, spread ideas, rally support, and give voice to many – but that can also leave users feeling “overwhelmed, insecure, and confused.”

In her honest comments, Zuckerberg reveals her ambivalence toward Facebook and other social media, simultaneously praising its virtues and lamenting its pitfalls.

It’s a rare treat for users of Amazon and Facebook: In their brief national cameos, Mrs. Bezos and Ms. Zuckerberg offer readers glimpses from the inside, a rare perspective on two of the most influential businesses in the world.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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