Democracy After Facebook

It’s Mark Zuckerberg’s world, and we are just scrolling through it: 2 billion of us now, a quarter of all humanity. We’re the unpaid production staff of the fourth most valuable company in Silicon Valley, which means: in the US. And the whole idea, born in a Harvard dormitory, isn’t 15 years old yet.

Mark Zuckerberg in his Harvard dorm room

Fourteen years ago Facebook was a social network for college kids that became a mind-reading marketing tool, then an advertising engine, and now a main gateway to media, ideas, and politics. Add video, and it’s the new television, with a grip on our attention like nothing since television.  But Facebookers are, in truth, more used than users.  

For the backstory to Facebook’s modern hegemony, we turn to our favorite historian of Silicon Valley, Fred Turner. He tracks the transformation of California counterculture in the Summer of Love into cyber culture and digital utopianism in modern San Francisco. He also sees the whole, pseudo-religious ethos of the techno-saviors ritualized annually at Burning Man.

Siva Vaidhyanathan studies the foggy landscape of digital capitalism—an area marked by novelty, mystery, non-regulation, giant growth, amazing profits and compound social effects. He’s soon to publish a book on how all these themes play out in Facebook world, as well as the new threats they pose to American democracy. 

Moira Weigel co-founded a new magazine called LOGIC—centered on technology, but also covering, in the first three issues, the interrelated topics of intelligence, sex, and justice. Her recent piece in The Guardian calls for the rising “Tech Left” to unite and stand up against the “Big Tech” worldview, as represented by Facebook and others. 

Paul Budnitz, in Vermont, offers us another alternative to the Facebook model. He built the community site “Ello” for artists and their friends; their rule was no ads on the site and no collection of user data.  He marks the moment when Mark Zuckerberg took another path, and still worries about where that road will lead. 



Guest List
Fred Turner
professor of communication at Stanford University
Siva Vaidhyanathan
professor of media studies at University of Virginia
Moira Weigel
junior fellow at Harvard University and co-founder of LOGIC .
Paul Budnitz
artist, designer, and founder of Kidrobot and Ello

Related Content