This past week here in Washington, Mark Zuckerberg, the president and founder of Facebook, testified before 44 members of the U.S. Senate. As a Facebook member, I find the Facebook concept to be a useful one. However, I feel Mr. Zuckerberg has deviously found unethical ways to profit excessively. My impression is that Mr. Zuckerberg is a very brilliant, successful genius who totally lacks a basic ethical compass. He very much fits into the Washington "apology" circle. Here in Washington, we have a "phony apology circle" in which a public official admits wrong, says they are sorry and expects to move on without any consequences.
First of all, what Mr. Zuckerberg is is an astounding success and an example of a young man in a free enterprise system building something extraordinary. I admire that very much. He has created an astounding company and introduced an amazing new way for people to communicate among themselves. I use it every day. Thus, I don't want to "just drag down" somebody who has been so creatively successful. But, at some point in his climb to success, he turned to doing things that are, to me, ethically questionable. Some say it is similar to John D. Rockefeller's brilliant performance in the free enterprise system until he became so powerful that his dark side as a predatory monopolist ultimately emerged. The tale of Zuckerberg is similar.
Mr. Zuckerberg's whole testimony this week seems to me to immediately satisfy a questioning Congress and the popularity of the hour without any reference to a basic ethical framework of right and wrong.
For example, if he believes, as he says, that what he did was "wrong," that he is sorry, and that he used the property of others for ill-gotten gain, then he should offer to make some repayment. There is a 12-step program that is used for addictions and a lot of personal rehabilitation efforts. A key part of it is admission of wrongdoing and being sorry. Another key part of it is making real, tangible amends.
Mr. Zuckerberg has apparently made several billion dollars. What if he were to say "I am sorry and I voluntarily offer to disperse to members a billion dollars of my own money on a per capita basis." Wow, that would be "real amends." That would mean something. It would be a gesture that would indicate true sorrow and those injured would get recognition. And it would set an example for others to go on and do the same.
My impression is that Mr. Zuckerberg will do as little as possible to make amends, will make some small changes and will continue with pretty much business as usual. If he paid everybody money and did not change his behavior, it would not have a positive result. He would have to both make amends and change his behavior. Hopefully it would encourage others to follow suit.
I do not want to be morally judgmental about other men, but we are all called upon sometimes to do that. Mr. Zuckerberg, to me, personifies a belief in self-aggrandizement and self-profit at any cost. There is no discussion of an ethical platform based on service to God, fellow man or a higher purpose. A higher purpose of service is to utilize the internet, software and modern telecommunications for the betterment of humanity. A fundamental belief in God or in the Confucian standard of the public good or some other platform of service as a basis for our behavior is needed.
Mr. Zuckerberg did not verbalize any such concept of service. I hope I am not misjudging him, but I found this young genius's testimony to be lacking in desire to improve mankind.
I certainly do not advocate the government confiscating anybody's money. It would have to be on a voluntary basis. What a wonderful ethical example it would be if Mr. Zuckerberg were to do something like this. Perhaps it would break the Washington "apology" circle.
Again, I do not want to be too judgmental of Mr. Zuckerberg. The question to myself might be: "What if God blessed me with enormous riches and power? Might I also overreach for 'more' and break some ethical rules?" I hope not. Clayton Christensen's great book "How Will Your Life Measure Up?" suggests it's fine to make a lot of money, but we must stick to our basic moral philosophy.