Granted, he was facing a hostile crowd.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's performance at the AllThingsDigital D8 conference Wednesday night will not be remembered as one of his finer moments. The 26-year-old social networking wunderkind delivered a tense, rambling, and utterly awkward performance during his featured interview, according to witnesses and press accounts.
Zuckerberg became flustered almost immediately after veteran tech reporters Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher pressed him on Facebook's privacy issues. "There have been misperceptions that we're trying to make all information open," Zuckerberg said, according to coverage in The New York Times. "That's completely false."
The young CEO doggedly refused to answer straight questions, instead returning to hazy talking points, before losing it all together.
Attendees were not impressed.
On the Hot Seat
"Out in the hallway, the verdicts were brutal," wrote Sharon Waxman at The Wrap, "with observers saying Zuckerberg seemed lost, in the midst of a panic attack or at the start of a meltdown."
Facebook has been on under fire over its privacy settings for months, but Zuckerberg quickly broke into a sweat under questioning from Mossberg and Swisher, who run the AllThingsD franchise, part of Rupert Murdoch's media conglomerate News Corp. (NWS).
During the interview, Zuckerberg appeared increasingly rattled. When Swisher noticed Zuckerberg sweating bullets, she offered to take his hooded sweatshirt, or hoodie. Initially, Zuckerberg resisted, before handing over his garment to The Wall Street Journal vet.
Inside the jacket Swisher noticed a huge, occult insignia with a Facebook logo. "Oh my God, you're a cult," Swisher exclaimed. It was an awkward moment.
Mossberg instantly redirected the questioning, but some tech observers found the moment unsettling. "Zuckerberg takes off hoodie. Inside the lining is an Illuminati kind of insignia with Open Sharing motto. Now I'm freaked out," wrote veteran tech reporter Steven Levy of Wired.
After stumbling early, Zuckerberg hit his stride arguing that social networking is all about connecting with new friends -- hence Facebook's liberal social controls. Zuckerberg's argument is that the future of the Web centers around individuals and the networks they create.
"A few years from now we'll look back and wonder why there was this time when all these websites weren't personalized," Zuckerberg said. "The world is moving in this direction where everything is designed around people."
Zuckerberg seemed to claim ignorance about the privacy concerns swirling about his company. "Maybe I'm in denial," Zuckerberg said. "I think our goals haven't really changed that much at all."
Zuckerberg's "Nixon Moment"?
AllThingsD is one of the most prestigious tech conferences of the year. Initial reviews for Zuckerberg's performance were not positive.
"Zuckerberg had a Nixon moment tonight," Mahalo CEO Jason Calacanis said. "People at conference are talking about the most insane meltdown ever."
However, Zuckerberg did have his defenders. "Much ado about privacy but Zuckerberg most passionate, convincing tech entrepreneur of the moment and most users trust FB," wrote Eric Hippeau, CEO of The Huffington Post.