Mark Zuckerberg’s fantasy world vs. the world Facebook is actually creating

John Harris writes: Zuckerberg’s new sense of mission was laid out in the commencement address this Harvard dropout delivered at his alma mater in May. He wants to stop climate change. He intends to be part of a generation “that ends poverty, that ends disease”. He talks about “a level of wealth inequality that hurts everyone”, and says he “wants a society that measures progress not just by economic metrics like GDP, but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful”. He talks about being on the side of “freedom, openness and global community” against “authoritarianism, isolationism and nationalism”. But every word highlights the same absence. The ends seem nice. What of the means?

In Zuckerberg’s case, the sense of liberal cant is made even more glaring by the contradictions that swirl around him. As he sketches out his nebulous utopia, he says: “People like me should pay for it.” But he makes no mention of his company’s questionable record on tax, instead emphasising his belief in charity. He affects to worry about social and political polarisation while the very algorithms that power his platform encourage it. He superficially sets himself against the global forces of reaction while they make merry on his servers.

And though Facebook’s continuing travails have evidently rattled him, he inevitably has no sense that its ethos and operations need any reining-in. Quite the reverse, in fact. Judging from his recent pronouncements in response to the way that society and politics have become more divided and fractious, Zuckerberg wants Facebook “to develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us”.

He thinks there is a small subset of Facebook’s 2 billion users who make up “meaningful communities” on the platform, and that via a reinvention of Facebook’s Groups, more of us should follow their example. All this is as vague as everything else, but it boils down to something captured in a headline from Wired magazine: “Mark Zuckerberg’s answer to a world divided by Facebook is more Facebook”. [Continue reading…]

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  1. Dieter Heymann says:

    Facebook: instead of gossiping with your immediate neighbors you can now gossip with the world. Such progress!