Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has possessed an infinite amount of success. The 32-year-old multi-billionaire serves as one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent poster children; an inspiration for the waves of young people who have gravitated to the tech industry and flooded the Bay Area in search of comparable success.
It’s not just success that has shaped Zuckerberg’s prominence and influence; what differentiates him and many of his Silicon Valley peers is their aspiration not just for personal success, but for changing the world. While this might be a warm, fuzzy goal of millennials everywhere, entering a world in which individual tech billionaires have the potential for a wide, overarching influence in society is not something to be taken lightly. The characteristics that lead to success in the worlds of technology and business are not the same ones that make someone moral and trustworthy. Zuckerberg and his philanthropic contemporaries are under no obligation, moral legal or otherwise, to actually have the best interests of society at heart.
Unlike the billionaires of times past, Zuckerberg isn’t content to revel in his riches and maintain the status quo
that gave him his start. While Wall Street profiteers his age have been practically defined by their selfishness, Zuckerberg’s pendulum swings stridently in the opposite direction. With the rise of Facebook’s prosperity, he’s been notably generous to charities. In 2015, following the birth of their daughter, he and his wife launched the Zuckerberg-Chan initiative, pledging to donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares at the time to the advancement of health and education over the course of their lives.
Although details of his charitable donations have drawn skepticism and criticism, Zuckerberg does appear to have virtuous intentions and a desire to make the world a better place, in addition to the continuously growing influence to actualize his desires. But there’s a massive, glaring problem: Zuckerberg is not a democratically elected public official. His position isn’t one he was picked for based on people’s belief in his strong moral fiber or ability to make good choices. No matter how well-intentioned he might be, he is one man with one company with an obscene amount of influence, and, like anyone, with a subjective view of what making the world a better place means.
His convergence with an increasingly globalized and tech-based society has caused an entrance into murky moral territory. Zuckerberg’s influence and life goal “to connect the world” put him on the forefront of globalization. In 2014, Facebook launched Internet.org, an ambitious project “with the goal of bringing internet access and the benefits of connectivity to the two-thirds of the world that don’t have them” according to its mission statement.
Although it can’t be denied that internet access is practically a requirement for everyone in the digital age, the fact that this effort is being headed by one person, whose global influence came about through his role as pioneer of a new brand of 21st century capitalism, isn’t something that should be glorified. Increasingly, the major fallacy permeating Silicon Valley has been that technical ability and success are equivalent to wisdom and virtue. Leaders like Zuckerberg are seen not just as businesspeople, but as sage revolutionaries. However, the ability to create a successful tech company is absolutely no indication of suitability for directing the future of society.
It can be argued that governments have failed in meeting society’s demands in the 21st century and that someone has to step in and help. However, the Silicon Valley giants didn’t rise to power due to their deft understanding of society and what would make it better, and this trend should be approached with caution rather than blind faith. The world of technology is continuing to change rapidly, during a time where we still aren’t sure what its effects on society are. Rather than idolizing figures like Zuckerberg, young people are better served by developing their own potential to impact the future in a positive way. If anything truly humanitarian is going to be accomplished, it will come from the work of numerous minds, voices and perspectives, not the concentration of money and influence that is Silicon Valley.