‘Messianic’ Zuckerberg aims to save the world

Unusual: Zuckerberg says his passions are ‘minimalism’, ‘revolutions’ and ‘eliminating desire’.

Facebook’s profits have trebled in a year. Its founder now wants to fix health, education and climate change. Should any person have so much power? Or even dream of having so much power?

At the age of 31, Mark Zuckerberg has just become the sixth richest man in the world. His estimated net worth is $51.7 billion. Yesterday his company, Facebook, announced a tripling of profits — a day after both Apple and Twitter issued disappointing financial results.

The company also said he had requested the issue of a new, inferior class of stock. This will leave many shareholders with no voting rights, while his shares retain ‘super-voting’ power. Zuckerberg recently said he would give away 99% of his shares — but his control of Facebook is tightening.

‘We have always been a founder-led company,’ he explained. That, he said, had ‘helped us resist short-term pressures that often hurt companies’.

Facebook is already very powerful. It now has 1.65 billion active users each month, and has bought companies such as Instagram and WhatsApp. But Zuckerberg made clear that he wants to go further.

‘Everything we do at Facebook is focused on our mission to make the world more open and connected,’ he wrote. ‘We’re focused on what Facebook can be, and what it needs to be for our community. Helping to connect the world will always be the most important thing I do.’

Facebook, he said, would ‘invest in areas like spreading connectivity, building artificial intelligence and developing virtual and augmented reality’. This would help to meet ambitions such as improving education, tackling climate change and curing ‘all diseases by the end of the century’.

Some question whether he is the right man for this. His original social network, Facesmash, was criticised as demeaning to women. In 2014, Facebook paid less than £5,000 in UK corporation tax. And he has been accused of allowing his political views to colour the running of Facebook, undermining free speech and encroaching on privacy.

Yesterday, one technology blogger wrote that Zuckerberg had ‘announced that he is God’. Facebook has access to plenty of its users’ personal data; it knows who they are friends with, their hobbies and opinions. Should we be scared of their CEO’s zealous pursuit of power?

Zucker punch

His supporters say he is a philanthropist who will bring people together and make the world a better place. This highly successful man can now apply his wealth, influence and intelligence to the world’s most significant problems. He can be granted a little lofty language — we should be grateful that he is not only well-off, but also altruistic and idealistic.

This is sinister and undemocratic, say others. Facebook has no mandate to change our lives. Nobody voted for Zuckerberg, and it is not right for an individual to exercise so much influence. He lacks humility and needs to be reminded he is just a man.

You Decide

  1. Would you use your wealth and influence in the same way as Mark Zuckerberg?
  2. Should the world welcome Zuckerberg’s agenda?

Activities

  1. Make a list of five significant problems the world faces which you would like to tackle. What would you do about them? Discuss your ideas with a partner.
  2. In groups of three, create a three-minute video explaining how three billionaires have used their money and influence. Which of them do you admire, and which do you not? Why?

Some People Say...

“The person with information is more powerful than the person with money.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Does it matter how a multi-billionaire spends his money and time?
Facebook had over 1.6 billion users each month in the first quarter of this year. This means Zuckerberg’s invention has reached a significant proportion of the world’s population. The money he has made has only been possible because people use Facebook — so if you are on Facebook, or have used it, you have made a small contribution to his wealth.
But I am not on Facebook.
It has still had an indirect impact on your life by changing the way people interact with each other and inspiring lots of other innovations which you may use. Also, the way Zuckerberg spends his money is likely to affect everyone: are you uncomfortable with him having so much power, or are you excited by the prospect of solving some important problems?

Word Watch

$51.7 billion
According to Forbes.
Tripling
In the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period 12 months ago.
Disappointing
Twitter’s revenue missed expectations in the first quarter of 2016. Apple announced the first ever year-on-year fall in iPhone sales and saw $46bn wiped off its value.
Pressures
In 2006 Yahoo offered to buy Facebook for around $1 billion. Zuckerberg says if other shareholders had been more powerful, they would have pressured him to accept the bid — but the company is now worth far more.
Demeaning
Facesmash was a predecessor to Facebook, based on rating pictures of young women taken from other websites.
Political
Zuckerberg has publicised his views on immigration, the Black Lives Matter movement and the way American prisons are run.
Free speech
Zuckerberg has said ‘hate speech has no place on Facebook’ and made similar comments to Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, on an open microphone.
Privacy
Apple CEO Tim Cook launched a thinly veiled attack on Facebook for ‘lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information’ in June.

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