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Tuesday 17 July 2018
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Commentary

Zuckerberg’s world

Mark Zuckerberg

Marina Salandy-Brown

I may be in a minority of one but I feel that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, has been made a bobolee of this week because most of us don’t really understand anything at all about the intellectual and technological world in which he lives and works.

The second and final day of his testimony to the US Congress regarding the Cambridge Analytica debacle was a travesty. It was like witnessing the school bullies ganging up on the school nerd to show off that they too could be good at something. They came out for round two like neophyte pugilists, wild and below-the-belt punches flying around, forcing the champion to duck and dive because as long as he stayed on his feet he stood a chance of knocking them out with a simple left hook, which he really did not want to deliver because it was a David and Goliath struggle. It only showed the deep divide between the people who really run this world and those who pretend to or even believe they do.

Notwithstanding everything I wrote last week, I consider Facebook an incredible achievement because one person with an extraordinary intellect, great cognitive skills, a critical mind with an unshakeable, big, long-term vision of human interaction and a rare stomach for hard work was able to take an idea and build an empire that many nation states could never even aspire to. Thomas Edison famously said that genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration, and Zuckerberg qualifies.

Added to that, he has displayed formidable business acumen, concentrating on his core product and building a monopolistic tech company that must be one of the biggest in the world. Unlike so many tech start-ups, he didn’t sell to the first big bidder. I think that suggests he is a very serious and determined person with staying power. He described himself as “optimistic.” And, I would guess that for all the perceived slowness and outright denials he has been assiduously trying to manage all the flack around Facebook. I think it highly improbable that he is in business just because of money and, therefore, is very unlikely to have deliberately and knowingly encouraged or supported the mismanagement of Facebook users personal data for mere profit, including his own. For sure he is a risk-taker and an entrepreneur and he would not be, therefore, unprotected from exploitation or mistakes and even failures.

It is easy to rough up Zuckerberg and unfairly liken him to J Edgar Hoover but it does nothing to solve the real challenges that many new technologies have sprung upon us. Most of the Luddites posing questions to Zuckerberg clearly could not fathom the depth of the answers required and why a single "yes" or "no" were not always possible. For them and me it is a black hole. I do know, however, that systems follow invention and while I know little about Facebook, it would not have survived and thrived if it were not in a perpetual state of refinement and expansion. One has to strive constantly to catch up with progress, creating supporting and protective infrastructures that, at times, may be inadequate when you are moving fast.

I remember what a huge hate figure Bill Gates was for most of the time that he actually ran Microsoft, another runaway success story. We should reflect upon the many viruses created just to harm Microsoft and other software; operating systems are always being hijacked by those whose only purpose remains destruction and exploitation. These disruptions have spawned a whole industry of computer and data protection software and newer technologies. Zuckerberg may be smart but the world of digital media is inhabited by other smart folk who create thousands of apps that are totally unregulated and which Facebook and other systems use. It is terra incognita, so knowing how to legislate or control has to be after the fact. It is not just down to Zuckerberg, but the fact is that governments don’t have a clue. Cambridge Analytica is just a salvo across our bow.

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