Facebook faces frequent criticism that it’s merely a multibillion-dollar monstrosity seeking to enrich shareholders. At a public Q&A this week, cofounder Mark Zuckerberg attempted to convince the world that he’s not all about the money.
“I think the biggest thing that I believe that people might disagree [with] — or not give us credit for — is that we really care about our community and our missions. When I was starting Facebook, I wasn’t thinking about it as a business. I wanted to connect the people in my community around me.”
He notes that even Facebook’s charitable Internet.org, which aims to connect more developing regions to the Internet, gets criticized as an attempt to wrangle more Facebook users for hungry advertisers. This is his argument for why that’s not the case:
For example, Internet.org — one of the questions people ask is, “[Is] this just a way for you to get more people on Facebook?” I can promise you if what I cared about was making more money, I would take the engineers and the people who are working on Internet.org and spreading connectivity around the world and have them go work on our ads products.
Facebookers frequently field questions related to this concern. For instance, in 2012, early coworker Ezra Callahan answered the same question on Quora:
When I worked with Mark Zuckerberg, money was certainly not his primary motivator. He lived an absurdly spartan lifestyle. Well after the point that Facebook’s valuation passed $1B, Mark still lived in a small, crappy apartment and slept on a mattress on the floor.
For what it’s worth, I find the argument persuasive. I don’t think Zuckerberg or the other Facebook billionaires are angels, but their behavior doesn’t really jibe with people who care about money. Many of them wear sneakers, live in small homes, and, for fun, feed free grilled cheese to partiers at the Burning Man festival.
I’d argue that the Facebook elite are zealots: They’re on a near-religious mission to shape the world. This has been a core human motivator of powerful people for thousands of years and — really — shouldn’t be all that surprising. For many people, influence is more important than money. Zuckerberg believes his mission will benefit humanity, so he’s probably best judged by that measure.
He concludes, “If I could snap my fingers and convince people of one thing that I’ve had a hard time doing over the last 10 years, it’s probably that.”
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