have named Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg their Person of the Year, despite WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange crushing the popular vote. Zuckerberg received the 10th highest number of votes from readers. We wrote early this week about the possibility that Time's editors might choose someone other than the person their readers chose.Time magazine's editors
So what does Zuckerberg have to say about the man who peeled back the curtain from the internal discussions among diplomats for history's most formidable empire? Not much. Time's press release included a rambling pseudo-statement from Zuckerberg on WikiLeaks. Read it below and ask yourself: shouldn't he have put a little more thought into such an important matter than this? Wasn't there anyone available to edit these statements for coherence?
Zuckerberg on WikiLeaks, to be read in Zuckerberg's distinctive, measured voice and serious tone:
"Well, at a very high level some of the themes could be connected. I mean we mostly make so you can understand what's going on with the people around you because we think that that helps you connect with them more broadly.
I mean the wikileaks story is fascinating, but I also just don't think we're anywhere near the end of it. And I personally feel like, from the coverage that I've read, that I don't understand enough to fully comment on it, so I won't.
But I do think it's a fascinating kind of turn of events, and watching how the different institutions react to it is also fascinating....We definitely don't wake up in the morning and think about toppling institutions.
But one of the things that I think happens from people being able to share their opinions with their friends or more broadly. You know I really do think there is this concept where the best stuff spreads."
Seriously? That's the best that one historic figure could say about another historic figure, as the former accepted a prestigious award widely expected to go to the latter? Sorry, Mark, but I think you should have done better than that when this question was raised. Congratulations, by the way, for the recognition; Facebook has truly changed the world and definitely for the better.
The content of the Wikileaks statement, though, is essentially this: he doesn't want to comment on WikiLeaks, but its supporters should know that Facebook vaguely upholds some of the same most general principles ("at a very high level") and WikiLeaks detractors should know that Facebook is very different and much safer. ("We definitely don't wake up in the morning and think about toppling institutions.")
A grammatically poor, high-level hedging of bets: that's what we get from Zuckerberg? And why would Time or the Facebook PR team not take this part of an interview more seriously? Perhaps because they don't really take any of this, much less WikiLeaks, seriously.
Zuckerberg is famous for pushing privacy and transparency. WikiLeaks is shaking the world up with that paradigm taken to an international level. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Zuckerberg should have had a better statement prepared about it.
Perhaps the statement itself isn't even unreasonable, but the fact that it's as unclear as it is feels like a show of disrespect to an organization that deserves thoughtful engagement and comment.
Just One Example of Facebook's Role in International Relations
For what it's worth, Facebook can hardly be said to be disinterested in the kinds of international relations that WikiLeaks speaks to, either. Zuckerberg almost always starts telling the story of Facebook with a reference to its use in organizing big protests in Colombia, against the violent left wing insurgents in the world's longest civil war. The U.S. government has long backed the right wing government and brutal paramilitary army in that conflict, in full knowledge of the deep drug corruption of all sides of the conflict, but especially among U.S. allies.
That's a simplified but essentially accurate telling of how it's gone down in Colombia for decades. It's a nasty conflict and the left-wing rebels have made a whole lot of enemies with their violence as well. When the urban public says it's had enough of rural rebels attacking them, they organize big protests on Facebook.
And then Facebook tells the story about how it is a brand new instrument of political organizing for peace.
Colombia is one of the world's largest recipients of U.S. military aid. That story has been made much more clear by the work of researchers unearthing sensitive government documents - that's an important kind of work worthy of respect. Pic from ConflictPics.
What's the connection between these matters? It's that the same world of politics Facebook is proud to influence is also a world that needs careful scrutiny and research. Like it or not, that's the kind of work that WikiLeaks is aiming to do.
What ought Zuckerberg have said? I wouldn't presume to know - but I think it would have been appropriate for the leader of what would be the third largest country in the world if it were a country (500 million plus people) to have come up with something good and meaningful to say.
It's unlikely that Zuckerberg has nefarious intentions in all of this. But neither is he taking it very seriously. The least he could do is speak thoughtfully about those who do, like WikiLeaks, as he accepts an award that many people expected that organization's leader would win.