For those of us who worry that Facebook may have serious boundary issues when it comes to the personal information of its users, Mark Zuckerberg's recent comments at Harvard should get the heart racing.
Zuckerberg dropped by the university last month ostensibly as part of a year of conversations with experts about the role of technology in society, "the opportunities, the challenges, the hopes, and the anxieties." His nearly two-hour interview with Harvard law school professor Jonathan Zittrain in front of Facebook cameras and a classroom of students centered on the company's unprecedented position as a town square for perhaps 2 billion people. To hear the young CEO tell it, Facebook was taking shots from all sides—either it was indifferent to the ethnic hatred festering on its platforms or it was a heavy-handed censor deciding whether an idea was allowed to be expressed.
Zuckerberg confessed that he hadn't sought out such an awesome responsibility. No one should, he said. "If I was a different person, what would I want the CEO of the company to be able to do?" he asked himself. "I would not want so many decisions about content to be concentrated with any individual."
Instead, Facebook will establish its own Supreme Court, he told Zittrain, an outside panel entrusted to settle thorny questions about what appears on the platform. "I will not be able to make a decision that overturns what they say," he promised, "which I think is good."
All was going to plan. Zuckerberg had displayed a welcome humility about himself and his company. And then he described what really excited him about the future—and the familiar Silicon Valley hubris had returned. There was this promising new technology, he explained, a brain-computer interface, which Facebook has been researching.