Weird Government Twitter versus Zuck

The PA Treasury takes on Facebook's board structure

(Vicki’s note: I had so much fun writing the Elon Musk post and we’ve had so many Serious Normcore posts lately, that I made an executive decision that it’s time to switch it up: Let’s learn about Weird Pennsylvania Government Twitter. )

Twitter started out as a place for people to post the minutiae of their day. What began as an innocuous site to post your lunch order turned into a way to follow events in real-time, a way to connect with people at conferences, and, of course, a culture.

What characterizes some of the best of Twitter is Weird Twitter, the avant-garde, deadpan, no-context jokes lacking any sort of punctuation. The account that perhaps embodies this the most is dril, many of whose tweets have gone on to become internet lingua franca (and who also hails from my fair city of Philadelphia.)

Although Weird Twitter is still alive, it’s changed, and most of its initial creators of have moved on (Both Dril and Megan Amram, owner of another popular account, now have TV shows.) Once brands realized they could get attention from conforming to this developing absurdist internet culture, they started getting in on it. Ever since the breakout success of the Denny’s and Wendy’s Twitter account, brands have become radicalized, emboldened to be completely ridiculous and surreal. 

These days, it’s not uncommon to find a streaming service tweeting about sex, 

And an artificial orange drink company tweeting about depression,

SunnyD, the drink otherwise known as “not orange juice,” took to its Twitter account on Sunday to post some inane shit about the Super Bowl. “3-3 SCORING SPREE,” said one post. “Travis out here looking like he’s the new sheriff in @toystory,” went another. Perhaps realizing these cracks were doing nothing to sell the drink upon which the company was founded, SunnyD’s social media manager threw up their hands and echoed the sentiments of anyone actually reading its posts: “I can’t do this anymore.”

Like flies to a fresh corpse, the brands came running. MoonPie, Pop-Tarts, and Uber Eats all sought to “comfort” SunnyD in what was sure to be an amusing portrait of Brands Acting Like People.

It’s 2019, though, and this is all already old hat. What’s new, though, is that lesser-known government accounts are, now, also People. For example, there are the national parks, who went rogue after the election. And then, most recently, there is the Pennsylvania Treasury. The account came online this spring, and things immediately got weird.

Lately, it’s been exchanging @s with Steak-umm, a (also Pennsylvania-based!) meat-like cheesesteak filling brand, 

and, more importantly, posting memes mocking Zuck. 

Let’s back up. What even is the Pennsylvania Treasury department?

It’s is probably about as normcore a government department as you can imagine. It keeps track of the money Pennsylvanians (like myself) pay in taxes, and uses that money to pay for expenses and manage state agencies. It manages about $100 billion per year and allocates it across departments like Human Services, Education, and Corrections. It also runs the state’s 529 plan for saving for college, as well as managing the Unclaimed Property Bureau, which alerts Pennsylvania residents to unclaimed property they may have.

It also looks at possible investments it could make with that money to better serve Pennsylvanians.

The Pennsylvania Treasury invests in many different companies as a way to grow its financial portfolio to maintain its state funds and pay its bills. In total, Torsella manage the commonwealth’s $33.6 billion investment portfolio.

The current treasurer is Joe Torsella. He’s is known for being an outspoken critic of hedge funds, venture capital, and all the other good stuff that Norcmore criticizes on a regular basis. He’s also somewhat of a avid meme connoisseur himself.

He came into office in 2017, running on a platform of transparency, which included portable IRAs, getting rid of third-party marketers at the state, creating an online portal to show all state spending.

His own Twitter account is pretty open and critical in that regard,

“Private equity can be a boon to a struggling company by pooling capital, taking it to the next level, and selling it," @JoeTorsella wrote on Aug. 16. “But too often, private equity firms instead buy companies, load them with debt, and pay themselves off in secret while decimating a firm and a community.” That monotone won a total of nine Twitter “likes” signaling approval.

Where it got interesting was when the PA Treasury account got involved this past spring. Created by two staffers - who, let the journalistic record show, would not talk on the record to Normcore - (they didn’t answer my DM and I didn’t feel like sending another one), the account has been doling out a heady mix of Weird Twitter, railing against Zuck and friends, and random, mundane observations.

In a tweet thread explaining the genesis of @PATreasury, one of two unnamed social media staffers who run the account said, “We decided to create the account and get kind of weird with it, but hopefully not too weird.” The authentic take got the eye of many in the Pennsylvania Twitterverse, and the follows started to pile up.

Mike Connolly, Deputy State Treasurer for Communications, told City Paper in an email that the Twitter account was a method that people “don’t normally see from a government agency” of engaging with Pennsylvanians and sharing information about Treasury programs.

Although Torsella is not the account, the popularity of the account has boosted both him and the treasury, and shone a light on an interesting activity - calling for Mark Zuckerberg to leave Facebook’s board.

Why? Pennsylvania, as a state, has money in Facebook. $5 million worth of money, to be precise.

The Pennsylvania Treasury invests in many different companies as a way to grow its financial portfolio to maintain its state funds and pay its bills. In total, Torsella manage the commonwealth’s $33.6 billion investment portfolio. Since Pennsylvania has invested more than $5 million in Facebook, it has votes and a say on Facebook’s board. Torsella is using that say, along with five other state treasurers, to pressure Zuckerberg. He told CP it is especially important for Pennsylvanians since other countries targeted American voters on Facebook in order to attempt to sway their votes during the 2016 election.

Who else is on Facebook’s board? Zuck, Sheryl, Marc Andreessen (Normcore post), Although, really, as Matt lays out in this newsletter, none of that matters, because Zuck holds a majority of the voting power, even though he only has 13% of the shares,

Ultimately, shareholders knew going into the meeting that their efforts to limit Zuckerberg’s control would fail. The company recommended voting down these proposals, and Zuckerberg’s majority voting power ensured they wouldn’t pass.

But the numbers are a symbol of just how frustrated shareholders have become with Facebook and the man who runs the company. 

As long as Zuckerberg controls a majority of the votes—he’s currently at 57%—Facebook can never lose a binding shareholder vote. Even if he sold down enough shares to lose that majority, the company is far too big for a hostile takeover, and probably too big to be attractive to activists. Facebook went public with a corporate structure that was quite explicitly designed to ignore shareholders’ desires. And now it is following through on that promise.

So really, Zuck doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do, ever.

Torsella can’t make him do anything, in theory, since the amount of shares that Pennsylvania holds in Facebook is tiny compared to the total amount of shares and volume held. But, he can try.

And what’s interesting is that other state government bodies are involved in this effort, as well.

The proposal is being co-filed this year by Treasurer Torsella, Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Connecticut Treasurer Shawn T. Wooden, and Trillium Asset Management.

There are a couple things that really strike me about this story.

First, a government account is getting into it with a frozen thin-sliced meat provider. Second, that even though Zuck, through a famously-leaked fireside chat indicated that he didn’t want Elizabeth Warren controlling and breaking apart Facebook, the government, or at least some state governments, already own a decent amount of shares in the company. And finally, that the media hype surrounding Facebook won’t be able to break apart or change any way that Zuck oversees the company.

But there’s a (tiny) chance this board meeting, through the collective power of these institutional investors, might.

Keep an eye out in the spring. And follow the PA Treasury account.

Vicki’s note: I previous included “That means it gets a Facebook board seat,” but that’s not entirely correct. I regret the error.

Art: Birds on a Yellow Background, Fernand Leger

What I’m reading lately:

  1. In case you missed it, Keybase issued a response after (but I’d obviously like to think it was because of) my post

  2. Thanks to Wired magazine for including my Stack Overflow post about Python!

  3. Yet another Philly company (that I applied to for a job a long, long time ago) and what it feels like not to make $2.6 Billion.

  4. How are fast food restaurant IT networks set up?

  5. Interview with Facebook’s head of AI

  6. More about the down feathers that are in all of our coats

  7. This article about baseball in the Soviet Union (h/t Normcore reader Carl!)

  8. Why I’m leaving data

  9. Benchmarking spreadsheets

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About the Author:
I’m a data scientist in Philadelphia. Most of my free time is spent wrangling a preschooler and a baby, reading, and writing bad tweets. I also have longer opinions on things. Find out more here or follow me on Twitter.