If you had to capture Silicon Valley’s dominant ideology in a single anecdote, you might look first to Mark Zuckerberg, sitting in the blue glow of his computer some 20 years ago, chatting with a friend about how his new website, TheFacebook, had given him access to reams of personal information about his fellow students:
Zuckerberg: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuckerberg: Just ask.
Zuckerberg: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
Friend: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuckerberg: People just submitted it.
Zuckerberg: I don’t know why.
Zuckerberg: They “trust me”
Zuckerberg: Dumb fucks.
That conversation—later revealed through leaked chat records—was soon followed by another that was just as telling, if better mannered. At a now-famous Christmas party in 2007, Zuckerberg first met Sheryl Sandberg, his eventual chief operating officer, who with Zuckerberg would transform the platform into a digital imperialist superpower. There, Zuckerberg, who in Facebook’s early days had adopted the mantra “Company over country,” explained to Sandberg that he wanted every American with an internet connection to have a Facebook account. For Sandberg, who once told a colleague that she’d been “put on this planet to scale organizations,” that turned out to be the perfect mission.
Facebook (now Meta) has become an avatar of all that is wrong with Silicon Valley. Its self-interested role in spreading global disinformation is an ongoing crisis. Recall, too, the company’s secret mood-manipulation experiment in 2012, which deliberately tinkered with what users saw in their News Feed in order to measure how Facebook could influence people’s emotional states without their knowledge. Or its participation in inciting genocide in Myanmar in 2017. Or its use as a clubhouse for planning and executing the January 6, 2021, insurrection. (In Facebook’s early days, Zuckerberg listed “revolutions” among his interests. This was around the time that he had a business card printed with I’M CEO BITCH.) [Continue reading…]