When I read Mark Zuckerberg‘s 5 500-word letter to the Facebook community for the first time, I was struck by two things.
Mark Zuckerberg’s long-term vision for Facebook, laid out in a sweeping manifesto , sometimes sounds more like a utopian social guide than a business plan. Are we, he asks, “building the world we all want?”
While most people now use Facebook to connect with friends and family, Zuckerberg thinks that the social network can also encourage more civic engagement, from the local to the global level.
Facebook now has nearly 2 billion members, which makes it larger than any nation in the world.
His 5,800-word essay positions Facebook in direct opposition to a rising tide of isolationism and fear of outsiders, both in the U.S. and abroad. In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Mark Zuckerberg stressed that he wasn’t motivated by the U.S. election or any other particular event.
Rather, he said, it’s the growing sentiment in many parts of the world that “connecting the world” — the founding idea behind Facebook — is no longer a good thing.
“Across the world there are people left behind by globalization, and movements for withdrawing from global connection,” Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook in a Harvard dorm room in 2004, wrote on Thursday.
So it falls to the company to “develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.”
Mark Zuckerberg vs. Fake news
Of course, many will find talk of “connectedness”, “community” and “bringing people together” very easy to dismiss.
Here is a very rich man running a very powerful – and often controversial – company, who, one assumes, might find it hard to relate to the ordinary concerns of the ex-steel workers of Monessen, Pennsylvania, or the former pottery workers of Stoke in the west Midlands.
But in an era of technology giants like Facebook which have so much “reach” – 28.5m users in Britain alone – the rebuttal is simple.
Better that Mark Zuckerberg is public about his vision for his company – agree or disagree with that as you like – than the alternative of corporate silence.
In my interview with him, I did push on taxes paid (or not) and privacy violations. Mr Mark Zuckerberg answered that he wanted Facebook to be a “good corporate citizen”.
And on fake news it is clear that Facebook, and other technology giants, have been ill-prepared for the type of editorial controls necessary in an era when millions of people receive their news via their chosen “filter bubble” with little mediation.
Facebook, Google and others have a central philosophy – act quickly to launch new products and then “iterate” if there is a problem.
That has led to mistakes, which Mr Mark Zuckerberg does admit to.
This is a century when the most powerful are not simply the elected leaders or dictators of the world, but are the corporate leaders who can do so much to influence – and control – what billions of people experience every day.
Speaking publicly about how they view that role is, for many, better than the alternative.
We can then at least test his company, this global behemoth, against the standards Mr Mark Zuckerberg has set himself.
Does the Facebook founder want to be a politician? Particularly given that he sounds so much like one – and I mean that in the broadest sense, not pejoratively.
Not yet, certainly. And maybe not ever.
As the head of a company with 1.86 billion active users a month, he is probably well aware that he has plenty of power already.