Portrait of an Emperor: Mark Zuckerberg (09.11.17)

At Harvard University Mark Zuckerberg took an Art History module on the art of Emperor Augustus. Zuckerberg had failed to revise for the module’s exam and appeared destined to fail. Rather than taking the undergraduate strategy of putting in an ‘all-nighter’ he had a bigger idea. He built an online platform, similar to Google Docs, where all of his course members could pool their ideas. Not only did Zuckerberg succeed in the exam, but all his classmates achieved the highest marks the tutor had ever seen. Following this instance, Zuckerberg continued to use technology to build an image of an emperor – an emperor for the 21st century.

Zuckerberg created a company called Facebook. This company is worth over $300 billion dollars. Through his acquisition of both Instagram and Whatsapp Zuckerberg has become the most powerful individual in the world of Social Media. While fellow modern emperor’s, Bezos and Musk, choose to portray themselves as superheroes, Zuckerberg aims to retain the youthful optimism of an undergraduate, dressed for every occasion in a t-shirt and jeans. Do not be fooled by this portrait. The man is a genius with a razor-sharp vision of Facebook’s role in the future.

Background

Mark Zuckerberg was born a prince. Raised in White Plains New York he was the object of adoration for both his Mother and Father. During his 2017 speech at Harvard, Zuckerberg claimed his upbringing was key to the founding of Facebook because he was given the support to teach himself C plus plus code. Zuckerberg was a coding prodigy. At home, he created a programme called Zucknet an early group messenger platform that allowed the family to communicate online. At Exeter Academy, he built a programme called Synapse which predicted people’s music tastes based on certain data.

Having gone to Harvard to study Psychology and Computer Science Zuckerberg’s career was almost short-lived. The programming prodigy got into trouble for creating a website called Facemash which allowed people to rank their fellow students based on their good looks. The University took action against Zuckerberg, who in turn called his parents to ‘pack away my things’ fearing immediate expulsion. No charges were pressed against Zuckerberg, however, the pressure forced him to ask out his now wife Priscilla Chan, which the Facebook founder claims was the ‘most important thing I built in my time’ at Harvard.

In 2004 he was recruited by the Winklevoss twins, two Olympian rowers, looking to build a site called Harvard Connection; an online space, similar to Facebook, where Harvard alumni could stay in touch. Neither of the Twins knew how to code and it was up to Zuckerberg to do all the building. During the project, Zuckerberg continued to delay the project whilst secretly working on his own social network called The Facebook. Later the Winklevoss Twins would sue over plagiarism winning some $300 million dollars.

Facebook’s rise to fame was meteoric. After Harvard, Zuckerberg met Sean Parker, a co-founder of Napster, who then introduced him to the circles of Silicon Valley who were already making revolutionary changes on the internet. Parker taught Zuckerberg how to run a business. He showed him how to talk, how to lead and how to party. Parker believed that Zuckerberg had to both run and become the face of Facebook. Facebook was immediately popular amongst students around America and soon became popular with the masses on the web. The addition of photo tagging made Facebook the dominant online format to connect and share photos.

2006 provided the greatest directive energy towards Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of Facebook. Following a rejected bid of $1 billion dollars from Yahoo, many people at Facebook left the company questioning Zuckerberg’s leadership. According to the Facebook founder, he felt that he had not yet ‘built Facebook to what he wanted it to be’. From this moment on he began to claim that Facebook’s purpose was to ‘connect the world’. A month after turning down the bid Facebook launched the Newsfeed, allowing different Facebook members to view their friend’s activities on a live homepage, creating, in essence, a newspaper for people’s social network connections.

In 2006 there were some 12 million people on Facebook. By 2010 Facebook had around 140 million users and a Golden Globe-winning film based on the life of Mark Zuckerberg called the Social Network. In 2012 Zuckerberg monopolised his control over social media photos, through purchasing the rival photography-based social media site for $1 billion dollars. Today in 2017 there are over a billion people on Facebook. Zuckerberg says his next mission is to make turn that number into two billion.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Dream

Talking about the beginnings of Facebook Zuckerberg said ‘when we began this idea it was not controversial’. Today Facebook is hugely volatile subject. The social media platform is possibly the world’s most powerful vehicle for change. Today Facebook has been accredited with the election of Barack Obama, the rise of Far Right nationalism, and a rising mental health epidemic – all at the same time. Such is the power of Facebook that the philosophy of the company is of the utmost importance to all societies around the world. Facebook has become what Foucault would describe as a ‘discursive instrument’ constructing the unconscious views of wider society. Facebook’s philosophy demonstrates how far the company feel responsible for the happenings online.

Within the company Facebook used to adhere to the experimental method of ‘move fast break things’, a phrase Zuckerberg has since Facebook’s success changed to ‘move fast within stable infrastructure’. This philosophy adheres to the experimental method of science. A/B testing is applied by the company’s computer scientists to devise the website’s most successful formulas. This constitutes intermittently testing different online versions with different Facebook users recording and analysing how different online versions change people’s experience of Facebook. These computer scientists are experimenting with ways to seduce their customers to spend longer and longer amounts of time on Facebook. Zuckerberg has also been known to encourage creativity through all night hackathons, in which employees will hack to the early hours of the morning on a project totally unrelated to what they are working on. Facebook has the DNA of Zuckerberg’s post-Harvard experiences in Silicon Valley pumping through its veins, and in many respects seems totally focussed on it’s role as a technology company.

To the wider public, Zuckerberg preaches how Facebook represents a reflection of our community, or in other words ‘connecting the world’. The Facebook founder frames Social Media in the same photo as the Church, arguing that while the ‘purpose that came from your job or church… has been disconnected’ Facebook will reconnect this sense of purpose. Zuckerberg therefore suggests that ‘connecting’ with people establishes a community. This community in turn creates a sense of purpose, and therefore, through connecting the whole world Facebook can create a global community and thus a global purpose.

Zuckerberg’s philosophy can also be summed up by the following formula:

Connecting with people on Facebook = community, community = sense of purpose, thus Facebook = sense of purpose in the world.

Writing in the Financial Times Shrimsley accuses Zuckerberg of conning people, claiming ‘one of the best signifiers of a phoney religion is where its commercial interests seem a little too well aligned with its moral mission’. Rather than creating a community Shrimsley believes that Zuckerberg’s goals are largely financial claiming the company, worth $300 billion dollars, has a ‘sole ambition’ of ‘seeing you organising your life on the platform’.

In February 2017 Zuckerberg wrote a statement explaining how Facebook could help safeguard communities. He gave five reasons Facebook could help. Firstly, it helped support communities. Secondly, it helped the safety of the community, allowing people to check in as safe following terrorist attacks. Thirdly, it helped educate communities with online learning resources. Fourthly, increasing political engagement, through encouraging people online to vote on polling day and also lobbying for online voting. Fifthly, creating a space that is inclusive for everybody, allowing people to find people with sympathetic outlooks. Therefore Zuckerberg has set himself targets he hopes to meet in order to justify the communitarian value of Facebook.

Confronting Political Issues

Facebook has been criticised for failing to take responsibility for what happens on the Website. While the company has been run like a Silicon Valley startup its impact has impacted the world durchdringen. Zuckerberg’s Empire continues to expand. Yet from Scotland to Syria pockets of people are voicing dissent at the platform.

Facebook has been criticised for the dissemination of fake news stories. Following recent shootings in Las Vegas and Texas, conspiracy theories gained huge momentum on the social media platform. In response to similar criticisms Zuckerberg gave a statement of extraordinary naivety claiming:

‘if you become less likely to share a story after reading it that’s a good sign the headline was sensational. If you’re more likely to share a story after reading it, that’s often a sign of good in-depth content.’

In this statement, Zuckerberg immediately assumes that because he himself is not attracted to sensationalist news, neither are the 1 billion people on Facebook. Two examples demonstrate that ‘sensationalist news’ aside from Facebook is extraordinarily popular and continually subject to ‘reposting’.

Firstly, The Daily Mail is the most popular UK media site in Britain, with much of its success based on an array of sensational title’s accompanied with sensational photos, such as ‘Charlotte Crosby flaunts her peachy derriere’. Secondly, Trump’s Twitter page is popular because of the sensationalist style it is written in. For instance, on the topic of North Korea, Trump posted a tweet saying ‘Anyone who doubts the strength or determination of the U.S should look to our past….and you will doubt it no longer’. This assertion demonstrates how Trump uses sensationalist statements to both draw attention towards his Twitter as well as threaten North Korean foreign policy.

Sensationalism is one of the most popular styles on the internet and feels native to Social Media. Consequently, Zuckerberg’s correlation between reposting and the authority of news stories is completely unfounded and wrong, suggesting that Facebook is either choosing to mislead or ignore that the platform is fertile soil for sensationalism. This highlights the most serious criticism volleyed at the emperor, that he fails to take responsibility for the fact that his company is no longer just a tech company, and in turn, his dream for Facebook fails to meet realities pressing requirements.

Mark Zuckerberg has built the world’s largest Social Media empire. He owns the most powerful machinery in the digital world. While he claims he is driving the machine towards ‘connecting the world’ and strengthening communities, there are still severe problems with the Social Media platform that Facebook are taking little or no responsibility for. When Zuckerberg created the Facebook his idea was to build a tech company. Today Facebook is its own ecosystem and whether Facebook like it or not they will be held responsible for what goes on on the website.

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