With each passing day, the Facebook phenomenon looms larger as a precursor of a global networked society. It is such a potent political organizing mechanism that it has been central to the recent upheavals in North Africa, and it may prove instrumental in bringing down multiple dictatorships. But the most important story about Facebook is the one that nobody in the American media is willing to write. It is the story of an accidental emperor.
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is the world’s youngest Billionaire. At the tender age of 26, he personally controls the development of a global digital social network that is increasingly taking on the characteristics of a political entity. It is easy to conceive of Facebook creating its own currency, citizenship regulations, and judicial and legislative structures. Yet all of these profound potential developments are under the control of a callow young man who stumbled into fame and fortune by building a wildly popular Internet service.
Zuckerberg’s character is that of a bright super-achiever, intensely focused on growing a business. He has no interest, aptitude, or concern for governing a political institution. Indeed, his current focus is on raising vast sums to fuel further growth of Facebook. The frightening fact is that Zuckerberg doesn’t really care what Facebook becomes, as long as it becomes the world’s dominant social network. In this respect, he is quite similar to Bill Gates, who was once another young hyper-achieving billionaire. Had it not been for antitrust actions brought against Microsoft in America and Europe, Microsoft might have crowded out every competitor and put a virtual coin box on every desktop computer in the world.
Unlike the case of Microsoft, there is nothing to stop Facebook from becoming the defacto precursor of an Internet world government. This government would not be a democracy; it would be an empire, and its emperor would be 26 year old Mark Zuckerberg. What is wrong with a profit-seeking corporation, led by a super-competitive businessman, creating a global Internet social network? The problem is that corporations are not designed to govern people. They have no interest in justice or the public good. Corporations are profit-seeking engines narrowly devoted to the interests of the stockholders. In the case of Facebook, Emperor Zuckerberg controls the stock.
It is a peculiar irony of contemporary American politics that it is increasingly dominated by corporations at a time when the model of the corporation is increasingly unsuited to solving global problems. The environment is being poisoned by the toxic effluents of corporations that view pollution as an “externality.” Economic inequality is increasing everywhere as corporations tear down social safety nets and take over legislatures through bribery disguised as campaign contributions. Organized labor is being crushed by corporations intent on minimizing wages. Financial markets are destabilized by unchecked corporate greed and unlimited bailouts. The biggest corporations are not only too big to fail; they are too big to jail, and they flout the laws with impunity.
So behold Emperor Zuckerberg, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus, and we poor citizens of his empire hope for justice and mercy. What will he decide to do to us tomorrow?