By Ian Sherr
Mark Zuckerberg pretty much invented modern social networking from his dorm room at Harvard 14 years ago. Then it turned into a monster.
He’s not the only genius whose inventions changed the world, only to watch in horror as their idealistic visions were destroyed. There’s J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who helped invent the atomic bomb and then devoted his life to nuclear arms control after he saw its destructive power. Orville Wright saw the airplane as a tool of peace, not a purveyor of war. And of course there’s the fictional Dr. Frankenstein.
They all failed, by the way, to change what their creations had become. Zuckerberg isn’t done trying.
This week, after spending the last two months apologizing for a privacy blunder that left Facebook’s 2.2 billion users, as well as its investors, advertisers and regulators around the world, saying it’s time to rein in one of the most important channels for communications and news in the world, Zuckerberg stood before more than 5,000 developers at the company’s annual F8 conference and preached.
He talked of responsibility and idealism, of innovation without thoughtlessness. Of moving fast, without breaking as many things. He was still the defiant and powerful Silicon Valley wunderkind — but a little less so, too.
“I believe that we need to build technology to help bring people closer together, and I believe that that’s not going to happen on its own,” Zuck said to a crowd packed into a convention hall in San Jose, 20 miles south of Facebook’s headquarters. “This is how we are thinking about our responsibility, to keep people safe and also to keep building.”
Under any normal circumstances, this might sound like normal tech industryfluff. But in the past few years, Facebook has gone from being a celebrated world-changing technology to the tool of Russian propagandists, data mining companies like Cambridge Analytica and, of course, trolls who spew hate around the web.
All these things have overshadowed the happy stuff about Facebook. They made us — and legislators around the world who have the power to regulate — re-examine the faith we’d put in tech companies, and the trust we’d given them.
Society’s decades-long honeymoon with Silicon Valley was ending, and it was something even Zuckerberg acknowledged.
“There’s no guarantee that we get this right. This is hard stuff. We will make mistakes and they will have consequences and we will need to fix them,” Zuckerberg said. “It’s not enough to just build powerful tools. We need to make sure they’re used appropriately, and we will.”