Mark Zuckerberg runs a nation-state, and he’s the king

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
April 10, 2018

“In a lot of ways Facebook is more like a government than a traditional company,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said.

He elaborated on this claim in a recent interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein. After noting that the Facebook community consists of more than 2 billion people around the world, he wondered if executives “sitting in an office here in California” were the right people to be making decisions for a constituency of that size. He asked, “How can you set up a more democratic or community-oriented process that reflects the values of people around the world?”

It’s good to see Zuckerberg starting to grapple with Facebook’s political responsibilities. But Zuckerberg and Facebook face far bigger challenges than he acknowledges in the interview.

As the technology writer Zeynep Tufekci has argued, it may be nearly impossible for Facebook to reform itself, given its underlying business model. And even if Facebook can reform itself, it faces some extraordinary challenges in building trust with its users and regulators.

The best way to understand this is to start from Zuckerberg’s comparison of Facebook to a government. Facebook is so powerful in its own domain that it is, indeed, like a sovereign state. It can upend the business models of companies that depend on it, or completely change the ways its individual users relate to each other — without them even realizing what has happened.

As Larry Lessig observed decades ago, computer code is law. And today, Facebook’s code establishes critical rules by which more than 2 billion of the world’s people and millions of businesses interact online.

Read the full piece at Vox