The one entity that can destroy Mark Zuckerberg

There's a fake Voltaire quote that floats around the internet: "To learn who rules over you, simply find out whom you are not allowed to criticize."  The quote is usually accompanied by a meme showing a gigantic hand crushing a scrum of hoi polloi, suggesting that society is dominated by an unquestionable oppressor.

Though the message resonates with rebellious hearts, its meaning is spurious.  In America, the most powerful institutions are subject to plenty of criticism, some of it overly harsh.  Just think of the obloquy casually thrown at President Trump, arguably the most powerful man on the planet.

The same goes for Facebook.  The social media giant has been fighting a public image battle over the last two years.  A recent profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in the New Yorker brings further into light the fascinating power dynamic between the digital imperium and a press that is, at once, antagonistic and beholden to it.

The article is not flattering; few write-ups of Zuckerberg are.  Most portray him as a neurotic whiz kid with antiquarian delusions of grandeur – except the grandeur happens to be real.  Zuckerberg lords it over a digital realm of nearly 2 billion souls.  No emperor in history can claim as many serfs.  The scope of Zuckerberg's influence makes the fictional Charles Foster Kane look like a street-corner newsie.
Yet he's powerless to shake off the impression that his platform – his precious money-making creation – cost Hillary Clinton the presidency.  That impression fuels media guttersnipes, who take shot after shot at his domain.  It has also enabled congressional Democrats to bully Zuckerberg and his lieutenants into purging their own platform of foreign influence.

Any digital marketer will tell you that Facebook's "reach" is an overrated metric.  Even so, the platform still has an outsized effect on political opinion, and even action, in some cases.  Armed insurgents use Facebook to trade weapons in Libya.  Users helped spread rumors in Sri Lanka that caused anti-Muslim violence.  In Burma (also widely called Myanmar), a genocide is being waged against a Muslim minority with the help of Facebook's interconnectivity.

Other than the internet itself, Facebook is the most powerful, wide-reaching communication-facilitator in history.  Zuckerberg, as its creator and controller, wields more power than the Roman statesmen he admires.

So why is he always playing defense?  Why does he deign to sit down with journalists who have every intention of smearing him, accusing him of being a socially maladjusted child in possession of an adult's toy?

The power dynamics surrounding Facebook – which are just another application of Lenin's immortal question, "who, whom?" – is such a fascinating issue because it's hard to tell who really has his hand on the lever of power.  Zuckerberg could easily brush off the endless journalist requests to better police his platform.  But he doesn't; usually, he'll give in with vague promises and a smidgen of action.  Does that mean he still holds the power?  Or is it the media, delicately exercising their own authority, with the subtle insinuation that they could make Facebook into the dialectical devil by publishing screed after negative screed about its inherent evil?

Then there's the government.  The entity with the ability to actually curtail Facebook's might is run by men too intellectually flaccid even to understand the concept of social media.  During his congressional testimony in April, Zuckerberg ran mental circles around lawmakers who demonstrated no actual understanding of the process of buying and selling information on the internet. It was like watching a child explain his handheld Nintendo game to a great-grandparent.

This isn't an argument for the septuagenarians of the Senate to brush up on how FarmVille feeds user data to third-party corporations, then regulate Facebook into nonexistence.  For now, Zuckerberg is keeping one step ahead of the governmental threat.  But his engine is starting to sputter as he tries to outrace a media pressure campaign.

Beneath the guise of strengthening the commonweal, Facebook and the media battle over the power to mold opinion.  Is it enough to wish for both sides to lose this war?

There's a fake Voltaire quote that floats around the internet: "To learn who rules over you, simply find out whom you are not allowed to criticize."  The quote is usually accompanied by a meme showing a gigantic hand crushing a scrum of hoi polloi, suggesting that society is dominated by an unquestionable oppressor.

Though the message resonates with rebellious hearts, its meaning is spurious.  In America, the most powerful institutions are subject to plenty of criticism, some of it overly harsh.  Just think of the obloquy casually thrown at President Trump, arguably the most powerful man on the planet.

The same goes for Facebook.  The social media giant has been fighting a public image battle over the last two years.  A recent profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in the New Yorker brings further into light the fascinating power dynamic between the digital imperium and a press that is, at once, antagonistic and beholden to it.

The article is not flattering; few write-ups of Zuckerberg are.  Most portray him as a neurotic whiz kid with antiquarian delusions of grandeur – except the grandeur happens to be real.  Zuckerberg lords it over a digital realm of nearly 2 billion souls.  No emperor in history can claim as many serfs.  The scope of Zuckerberg's influence makes the fictional Charles Foster Kane look like a street-corner newsie.
Yet he's powerless to shake off the impression that his platform – his precious money-making creation – cost Hillary Clinton the presidency.  That impression fuels media guttersnipes, who take shot after shot at his domain.  It has also enabled congressional Democrats to bully Zuckerberg and his lieutenants into purging their own platform of foreign influence.

Any digital marketer will tell you that Facebook's "reach" is an overrated metric.  Even so, the platform still has an outsized effect on political opinion, and even action, in some cases.  Armed insurgents use Facebook to trade weapons in Libya.  Users helped spread rumors in Sri Lanka that caused anti-Muslim violence.  In Burma (also widely called Myanmar), a genocide is being waged against a Muslim minority with the help of Facebook's interconnectivity.

Other than the internet itself, Facebook is the most powerful, wide-reaching communication-facilitator in history.  Zuckerberg, as its creator and controller, wields more power than the Roman statesmen he admires.

So why is he always playing defense?  Why does he deign to sit down with journalists who have every intention of smearing him, accusing him of being a socially maladjusted child in possession of an adult's toy?

The power dynamics surrounding Facebook – which are just another application of Lenin's immortal question, "who, whom?" – is such a fascinating issue because it's hard to tell who really has his hand on the lever of power.  Zuckerberg could easily brush off the endless journalist requests to better police his platform.  But he doesn't; usually, he'll give in with vague promises and a smidgen of action.  Does that mean he still holds the power?  Or is it the media, delicately exercising their own authority, with the subtle insinuation that they could make Facebook into the dialectical devil by publishing screed after negative screed about its inherent evil?

Then there's the government.  The entity with the ability to actually curtail Facebook's might is run by men too intellectually flaccid even to understand the concept of social media.  During his congressional testimony in April, Zuckerberg ran mental circles around lawmakers who demonstrated no actual understanding of the process of buying and selling information on the internet. It was like watching a child explain his handheld Nintendo game to a great-grandparent.

This isn't an argument for the septuagenarians of the Senate to brush up on how FarmVille feeds user data to third-party corporations, then regulate Facebook into nonexistence.  For now, Zuckerberg is keeping one step ahead of the governmental threat.  But his engine is starting to sputter as he tries to outrace a media pressure campaign.

Beneath the guise of strengthening the commonweal, Facebook and the media battle over the power to mold opinion.  Is it enough to wish for both sides to lose this war?