Mark Zuckerberg lays out the future for the world
The Short Version
In a 5,800-word essay delivered yesterday, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg described what he sees in the future for the social media giant and how that future could impact the world. The manifesto was so sweeping that it raises the question of whether the company might one day become more powerful than governments.
A Bit More Detail
There are some 1.85 BILLION Facebook users around the globe. Pretty much the only place you won’t find people on Facebook is China, where it is illegal, and even there some people manage to get around the laws. Approximately 1.23 billion of those people use Facebook daily. In a strictly digital sense, one could say that Facebook is its own country, which is interesting. If Facebook owned enough real estate to house all its users, it would be the largest country in the world.
Stop and think about that for a moment. Facebook—the largest digital country in the world.
When we couch it in those terms, that makes yesterday’s missive by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg the equivalent of a State of the Union address. All the same points are there. He addresses the current state of Facebook, recognizes some challenges, they lays out some long-term plans for making everything better—just like a good State of the Union speech only with more thought and cohesion than we’re likely to ever see from the 45th president.
Zuckerberg bases his statement around the question: are we building the world we all want? Looking at that question as the head of a giant global technology firm is one thing. What we see in how Mark answers that question, though, is something broader. He uses the word “communities” in both an online and offline context, effectively blurring the line between the two. As the two merge, the possibility of creating an actual nation-state based not on physical geography but on digital interconnectedness becomes a genuine possibility.
Consider what he says early on in his essay:
Our greatest opportunities are now global — like spreading prosperity and freedom, promoting peace and understanding, lifting people out of poverty, and accelerating science. Our greatest challenges also need global responses — like ending terrorism, fighting climate change, and preventing pandemics. Progress now requires humanity coming together not just as cities or nations, but also as a global community.
I’m sorry, is this a software company or the United Nations he’s addressing? What he’s attempting to tackle are issues that traditional governments have not had much luck in successfully solving. Does he actually think that Facebook can do a better job?
Yes, he does, and he could actually be correct. Facebook does a much better job of building cohesive communities around topics and ideas and convincing those communities to take action than even the best of governments. Facebook also had a broader reach than do most governments, successfully reaching to almost every country in the world. Facebook’s biggest limitation at the moment is the 4.2 billion people who are still without Internet. Solve that problem, and Facebook’s ability to drive community action could well become limitless.
How does this nation develop?
To fuel growth and address the challenges he’s raised, Zuckerberg says five questions must be answered:
- How do we help people build supportive communities that strengthen traditional institutions in a world where membership in these institutions is declining?
- How do we help people build a safe community that prevents harm, helps during crises and rebuilds afterwards in a world where anyone across the world can affect us?
- How do we help people build an informed community that exposes us to new ideas and builds common understanding in a world where every person has a voice?
- How do we help people build a civically-engaged community in a world where participation in voting sometimes includes less than half our population?
- How do we help people build an inclusive community that reflects our collective values and common humanity from local to global levels, spanning cultures, nations, and regions in a world with few examples of global communities?
He then divides the remainder of the essay into sections addressing each of those questions. His words are well thought out, intelligent, and realistic given what he has already proven he is capable of doing. Facebook has the ability to reach across borders without needing to sign treaties or worry about bureaucratic policies. The software company can effect change simply through the will of its users without having to worth through an argumentative congress or parliament.
Should Facebook be successful in matters such as recognizing and shutting down things such as bullying and terrorist recruitment, it will have addressed global violence more thoroughly than all the armies of the world and will have proven that it can be done without firing a single shot or levying the first sanction. I don’t know that we would necessarily consider this online diplomacy, for there would be little need for negotiation. The software would assist the affected communities in eliminating the problem for themselves.
I strongly encourage you to read Zuckerberg’s treatise in full. Think carefully about everything he has to say. Then, consider, if you were offered digital citizenship in the Nation of Facebook, would you take it?
That reality could be closer than we think.