The question every politician should be asking is, what does Mark Zuckerberg want with us?
Marina Hyde* – The
This is about more than Facebook and news –
it’s about the pursuit of power in a world where companies are stronger than countries
You can say
Mark Zuckerberg puts you in mind of a lot of
things. An efit of a man police would like to speak to in connection
with supermarket food tampering. A pink and overscrubbed supervillain – Lex
Loofah – or the classical bust of a Roman emperor who’s paused the rollout of
his hair feature, and lists his hobbies as “flaying” and “indifference”.
Ultimately, though, the most alarming way of looking at the
Facebook boss is just factually: he’s the world’s most powerful oligarch, selling
the lives of 2.7 billion monthly active users to advertisers, and actually
modifying the behaviour of those users with a business model that deliberately
amplifies incendiary, nasty, and frequently fake and dangerous things because
that’s what keeps you on his platform longer. So yes: considering all that,
it’s just a comforting cop-out to say “ooh, Zuckerberg looks like the character
in a movie who’s just delivered the line ‘leave no trace of the village’”.
Forget post-truth. Mark’s basically post-metaphor.
Anyway, Zuckerberg is in
the news along with News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch, in a heartwarming
generational fight between billionaires for who gets to say: “Bitch, I’m not IN
the news, I OWN the news.” In short, Murdoch (and other news publishers) have
long demanded Facebook and Google pay for people linking to or discussing their
content on their platforms, or including it in search results. Facebook and
others have long resisted.
Having failed to thrash out the issue in the thrashing yurt at
various barefoot mogul retreats, Murdoch effectively instructed the Australian
government to shake down the tech firms to pay publishers for the sharing of
links, or stop allowing the practice. Yes, here he comes, Monty
Burns-Unit, absolutely refusing to allow the trident to be prised from his claw
by the Valley bros. This week, Google chucked him some undisclosed loose change
just to shut him up, but Zuckerberg refused, turning off news sharing in Australia
and removing most Australian media from its platform, as well as pages run by
state health departments, charities and others. Alas, there
is outcry, with the publishers seemingly not wanting the thing they said
they wanted any more. It’s one of those fights where you’re rooting for the
asteroid to end it.
Of course, Facebook is the
galactic leader in PR crises. In the company’s short, unimaginably powerful
existence, they have made so many monstrous cock-ups and on such grand scales
that it seems reasonable to predict the full collapse of human civilisation
will be immediately succeeded by a Facebook statement
containing the words: “We know we have more work to do.” It’ll probably have
been drafted by Nick Clegg, whose political endpoint was always going to be
donning Earth’s last crew-necked sweater and doing comms for the apocalypse.
There is widespread outrage around the world over what’s
happened in Australia, particularly from politicians still fighting the last
war, specifically the one against Murdoch. Here’s some free BREAKING NEWS,
guys: you lost that one. And given the scale of your newer foe, well … the tech
companies have grown so far past the stage at which, say, oil companies were
broken up, or inquiries into Microsoft begun, that humanity should probably
stick a fiver on you losing this one too.
The true tragedy, of course, is that these guys have so much
in common. Rupert Murdoch recently
received the Covid vaccination, which I read on Zuckerberg’s platform means
he’s been injected with Bill Gates, a line of medical inquiry I hope to see
enthusiastically taken up by anti-vax-adjacent
Tucker Carlson on Murdoch’s own Fox News. Can people this ideologically
similar really be so far apart? Let’s hope they can still put their differences
aside to form some sort of Injustice League.
As for the rest of us, it’s hard being told how beautiful it
is to connect by Zuckerberg, whose smile hasn’t connected with his eyes since
2014. If friends are so important to our common goals, how come he doesn’t have
any? Maybe commodifying friendship gives Mark the excuse for not partaking in
it. You don’t see crack dealers using their own product, as the saying goes.
People often claim you’re frozen developmentally at the time
you become famous, which presumably stunts Zuckerberg back at the stage he was
in his Harvard dorm room. I can’t believe a product created to rate women has
ended up as what the business professor and tech commentator Scott
Galloway calls “the biggest prostitute of hate in the history of mankind”.
Honestly, what were the chances?
In her book The
Boy Kings, Katherine Losse chronicles her time at Facebook, from being one
of the firm’s earliest employees to eventually becoming the person Zuckerberg
appoints to write in his voice. Losse’s job was to impart Mark’s thoughts on
“the way the world was going” to the company and the wider public. When I read
the book, it was hard not to deem his personal philosophy nonexistent. It’s
like he’s never thought about anything, ever, other than computer science and
Naturally, Zuckerberg orders Losse to watch The West Wing.
This was a while ago, of course, and it wasn’t quite four years ago that
Zuckerberg embarked on a US listening
tour, taking in “little people” locations like Iowa truck stops. This was
widely interpreted as the start of a long run-up at a traditional presidential
campaign. We haven’t heard a lot of that talk recently, but it seems reasonable
to believe that Zuckerberg has since realised the president is very much junior
personnel – something Murdoch understood decades ago, as far as Australian and
UK prime ministers were concerned. Never mind truck stops being for little
people. Politics is for little people.
Of course, Zuckerberg is sometimes required to visit
Washington and attend
hearings, occasions for which Nick Clegg dresses the normally T-shirted
statesman as the reluctant teenage best man at his mother’s third wedding. But
as he accrues more and more unprecedented global power, the question every
single politician should be asking themselves, like, yesterday, is: what does
Mark Zuckerberg want with us? They should have clicked long ago that he isn’t
remotely interested in news as an idea or service. In 2016, Zuckerberg
the team that curated “trending” news topics and replaced them with an
algorithm that promptly began pushing fabricated news, as well as a video of a
man wanking with a McChicken Sandwich.
One of several essays Zuckerberg instructed Losse to write
in his voice was “Companies
over countries”. She resigned without completing it, but not before having
asked him if he could expand the slogan. “I think we are moving to a world in
which we all become cells in a single organism,” comes the mild reply, “where
we can communicate automatically and can all work together seamlessly.” Wow. A
vision of our future that has me immediately paging Morpheus. Was Murdoch … was Murdoch actually
the blue pill all along?. Fri
19 Feb 2021