Friday, February 8, 2013

Zuckerberg and Facebook; a Tale of Ingenuity, Vision, Power and Greed



The story of Facebook is more and more looking like a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. Once upon a time a country was created out of virtually nothing by an idealistic young man who thought it would be a good idea if friends could meet up in cyberspace and share their lives.  Share their friends, even, meet new people. Everything was rosy as first. His subjects didn’t realize they were his subjects at all, and they got free connection to all their friends. Fun was had by all in this land of plenty. 

But of course the creator realized he could make money out of it – and who could blame him? Even creators have to live. He was clever about it, and money started to flow as the country grew beyond even his wildest dreams. Soon it had a gigantic monthly population – close to a billion, or so its PR machine said.

But by then the beauty of the original dream had begun to significantly dim as the money and the power went to the creator’s head. World dominance is a seductive thing, so is a giant bank account, and who doesn’t dream of Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange? But the subjects realized this country wasn’t any longer so much about connecting friends, it was about how to use friends – anybody’s friends - to sell something, or shove something down your throat, whether you wanted to hear about it or not.

And it sure wasn’t free at all, they paid with their privacy. The homepages got busier and busier, with targeted ads, whether you wanted them or not. Imposters flourished because there was inadequate security; the country became a breeding ground for exploitation. 

And those figures of almost a billion daily users a month – convenient for drawing advertisers and thus investors - well, they turned out not to be totally provable, as anybody can have as many accounts as they want and the creator hadn’t set up a monitoring system. Strange, considering how creative he was. You’d think he’d have known how to put that in place. There was no system to differentiate between real, active users and automatic updates happening, either.

Apart from that, subjects began to be disillusioned, and the exponential growth of the country began to slip. Rumors abounded about the creator once saying at college that anybody who trusted him with their personal information was a “dumb fuck”. And a film was made about a young kid in college who he allegedly stole the idea from in the first place. Who in real life he paid out millions in a settlement. 

One subject allegedly said of him that he “…turned out to be a great entrepreneur, a visionary, and an incredible altruist." (Wiki) Well, that subject won a Golden Globes best screenplay award for the abovementioned film, so perhaps a little bias is understandable. Perhaps he really meant it, even though his script portrayed the creator in not such a great light. Hindsight is easy when you’re clutching an award. But other subjects were saddened at the loss of the real opportunity for the creator, to make plenty money for himself, as he deserved for his ingenuity, but never to lose sight of his original goal, that this would be about friends connecting, and thus to become an icon for his generation and generations to come in a world where exploitation is so easy. To be happy with some money and not want to dominate the world. 

The story doesn’t have an ending yet. But the moral – a kind of double-edged thing - is pretty clear. Power corrupts, and people don’t like being exploited. You can’t start something with a philanthropic idea and, when it attracts millions because of its inherent philanthropy, turn it into something where you use everybody, and think that people aren’t going to notice and object. We’re not all dumb fucks.

For other opinions, read Janet Tavakoli at the huffingtonpost.com, and Somini Sengupta at nytimes.com.