Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg: Digital Pied Piper of our times?

The Face of Facebook

“For connecting more than half a billion people and mapping the social relations among them, for creating a new system of exchanging information and for changing how we live our lives, Mark Elliot Zuckerberg is TIME’s 2010 Person of the Year,” TIME magazine’s editors announced on 15 December 2010.

As if to support their choice, their profile of Facebook’s co-founder added: “One out of every dozen people on the planet has a Facebook account. They speak 75 languages and collectively lavish more than 700 billion minutes on Facebook every month. Last month the site accounted for 1 out of 4 American page views. Its membership is currently growing at a rate of about 700,000 people a day.”

As usual, TIME’s selection was eagerly awaited, and the most popular choice online was WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. He ended as a runner-up as the next four newsmakers of 2010 — perhaps it was too controversial a choice for TIME’s editors considering the heavy polarisation of views at home about WikiLeaks?

I first read about this selection on Twitter. By coincidence, I was just finishing my latest essay, which was more about the challenges of living in the WikiLeakable world that we now find ourselves in. But Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook get honourable mentions in there.

The essay, now published as Living in the Global Glass House: An Open Letter to Sir Arthur C Clarke, includes these paras:

“I’m not so sure what you might have made of this thing called Facebook. With more than 500 million active members, the social networking website is the largest of its kind (well ahead of its nearest rival Myspace, owned by your friend Rupert).

“Going by the sheer numbers, Facebook is behind only China and India in population terms. But those who compare it to a major league country don’t imagine far enough — it’s really becoming another planet…

An essential survival skill in this Info Age...
“While Facebook’s high numbers are impressive, not everyone is convinced of its usefulness and good intentions. Can we trust so much power in the hands of a few very bright (and by now, very rich) twentysomethings? How exactly is Facebook going to safeguard our privacy when we (wittingly or unwittingly) reveal so much of our lives in there?

“I raise these concerns not only as a long-time ICT-watcher, but also as the father of a teenager who is an avid Facebooker. I once called Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg a ‘Digital Pied Piper’: might we someday see Hamelin the sequel?”

Read the full essay: Living in the Global Glass House: An Open Letter to Sir Arthur C Clarke

PS: On 1 Oct 2010, when the movie The Social Network (based on the Facebook story) opened, I tweeted: “www.thesocialnetwork-movie.com Story of da world’s biggest Pied Piper. And his 500 million+ rats!”

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

One thought on “Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg: Digital Pied Piper of our times?”

  1. There was a time when Time had the guts to call a spade a spade and select a real newsmaker of the year. Nowadays they are tamed and lame. Besides crossing the 500 million mark, Facebook did not really achieve anything new in 2010 that it did not already do in the past few ytears. Isn’t news supposed to be something new and noteworthy?

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