Words by Cameron Higgins

Mark Zuckerberg, whiz-kid turned criminally naive billionaire, went to the principal’s office yesterday. Only there were 44 principals and they also happened to be United States Senators. Zuckerberg had a rough start to the week as he answered questions for the Senate Judiciary and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committees about Facebook and its role in the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal.  

Then again, he wasn’t the only one who had a tough day. The hearing was a kind of awkward chaos. What else to expect from a bunch of ancient old dudes, confused about the nature of social media, grilling a boy genius on big questions?

There seemed to be no real consensus amongst the legislators on the nature of the Facebook problem, let alone any possible solutions. Regulation, privacy protection acts and hypotheticals were bandied about left and right to no satisfying conclusion.

The weirdest thing about the hearing though? Seeing Zuckerberg in a big boy suit and tie.

Zuckerberg was (is?) the quintessential kid-CEO: wearing his signature hoodie and working complex technologies like a profitable video game. This ‘chill’ image set him apart and slightly above the world of capitalism. It communicated that his vision was a hip utopia, and not to be hindered by retrograde meatspace institutions. The vision was something along the lines of democratic information sharing, worldwide connectivity etcetera. Zuckerberg, along with Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and the rest of Silicon Valley’s royal court sold us their idealistic vision of a better world through technology.

Maybe they were (are?) motivated by intentions as golden as they claim. If so, they, like so many optimists do, failed to take the full scope of human nature into their calculations. Hatred, privacy invasions and destabilizing misinformation spread as fast or faster than the messages from our better angels.

We bought a gleaming vision, the technological city on a hill. Perhaps, though, the stark weirdness of the hearings highlighted what a pedestal we’d placed Zuckerberg and his ilk upon.  They seem to work world-changing digital magic and exist 20 years ahead of everyone else. The nebulous techno-dimension of Facebook is personified in Zuckerberg. To see Zuckerberg brought down to the level of mortal accountability, clad in man’s most conservative and traditional of uniforms, was like witnessing some demigod brought down from the mysterious mountain to be questioned by a panel of humans.

Strange times in the continue in the Republic.