Facebook, he maintained, allowed politicians like India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi “to speak directly with the people they serve.” This was, he said, “very powerful in a way that can’t be twisted by intermediaries.” During this time, he did a series of “town halls” across the world so that he, too, could go direct to the people without the media coming between the CEO and cadres of hand-selected users of Facebook.
Zuckerberg was triumphant about the changes Facebook had wrought, calling the internet “a force for peace in the world.” Connecting people on Facebook was building a “common global community” with a “shared understanding.” He went to the UN and talked up what he and his pizza eaters had done.
Most surreally, given all that has happened since, Zuckerberg said he was proud of the way that Facebook was enabling political discourse that presented a wider array of political opinion than traditional media.
“Even if the majority of people that you’re friends with have opinions that are similar to you, your network of friends and friends of friends—who you’ll hear from in your News Feed—is going to bring you more diverse opinions than you would have from any other type of media that you would have consumed,” Zuckerberg said in December 2014. “And I think that that’s a really important change in the world.”
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Then, quite abruptly in the public record, Zuckerberg’s language changes completely. It began with the company review of its performance for analysts in January 2016. “Even as the world has tended toward greater openness over time, in many communities we also see greater fear over what a connected world and more technological progress means for them,” he said.
The triumphalism remained, albeit attenuated. He continued, “Addressing these concerns is essential for making progress on our mission, and we’re going to keep working to give people as much of a voice as we can, and advance the benefits of connectivity and bringing the world together.”
But by his April keynote to Facebook developers, he felt the need to lay out his principles in opposition to the rising tide of discontent. “We stand for connecting every person, for a global community, for bringing people together, for giving all people a voice, for free flow of ideas and culture across nations ...” he said. “But now, as I look around, and as I travel around the world, I’m starting to see people and nations turning inward. Against this idea of a connected world and a global community.”
This phrase, the global community, became a rhetorical device that Zuckerberg returned to again and again. In a June 2016 Facebook Live session (with Jerry Seinfeld), Zuckerberg laid out his grand theory of history and where Facebook fit in it.
“We’re at this next point in human civilization, where we have the next set of tools that we need, things like the internet, that can be this global communication infrastructure ... Just like we went from hunter-gatherers to villages and cities and then nations, I think we now need to come together as a global community,” he said. “Because a lot of the problems that you’re talking about, whether it’s terrorism or the refugee crisis or climate change or global diseases spreading around the world—these are not things that can be solved by any one city or one nation or one small group of people.”