Zuck sucks. According to his critics, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, presides over a company which is undermining our basic freedoms. It was complicit in the spread of fake news and foreign interference in our elections, and is partly to blame for the rise of political polarisation through its echo chambers and filter bubbles. The company has been selling the private data of millions of users around the world to select companies – most notoriously Cambridge Analytica, who used the information to meddle in the US presidential elections and Britain’s EU referendum. For a long time, Zuckerberg’s apologists could argue that much of this came about through naiveté rather than nastiness. But a cache of recently leaked emails shows that Zuckerberg knew all along what was going on – and the charge sheet is damning. Facebook is built on an essentially unethical business model and the buck stops with Zuck.
That’s the case against Mark Zuckerberg. But let’s keep things in perspective, say his defenders. Facebook has done more than any other organisation in the world to connect people through technology, allowing more than 2.2 billion users so far – that’s 30 percent of the world’s population – to share their lives with friends and family around the world – all for free. And let’s not forget that Facebook has been a vital tool for social and political organisation, from the Arab Spring to Obama’s presidential campaign. The world is a complex and messy place and while it’s convenient to scapegoat a single CEO for our polarised politics, the fact is there were multiple causes for Brexit and Trump. Of course, there are problems at Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg is keenly aware of them. In January 2018, he made a promise to fix Facebook, admitting that the organisation makes too many errors and listing his priorities as ‘protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent’. Much of what we are reading about Facebook is old news. Zuckerberg is essentially an idealist and we should at least give him the benefit of the doubt as he seeks to rebuild the world’s trust in Facebook.
That’s the argument of Zuckerberg’s defenders. But are they right? Join us on March 5, hear the arguments and decide for yourself.
Speakers are subject to change.