Facebook: Revolution, Weed and Philanthropy

At the risk of endlessly re boiling the cabbage on the now infamous Sarah Lacy interview of Mark Zuckerberg at SXSW, it is worth highlighting some pretty important things he had to say on Facebook & corporate philanthropy before the reporter became the bigger part of the story.

At the risk of endlessly re boiling the cabbage on the now infamous Sarah Lacy interview of Mark Zuckerberg at SXSW, it is worth highlighting some pretty important things he had to say on Facebook & corporate philanthropy before the reporter became the bigger part of the story.  The flippant style of interview was disorienting, one minute Zuckerberg is telling us how grassroots campaigners in Colombia organise on Facebook to face down the FARC revolutionary guerilla movement (who Lacy thinks represents the government) and the next Lacy is recalling meeting a 'tired' Zuckerberg in a Facebook conference room strewn with pizza boxes, ‘weed' and a ‘pile of bongs'. Far out, but which story is stretched beyond credulity?     

Zuckerberg is clearly passionate about the social utility of the self described social utility. But no, I do not think Islamic fundamentalist kids will draw back from terrorism after sharing empathy over Facebook with some teenage mall rats in the suburban US. 

Zuckerberg was right on the money on how Facebook can serve the needs of Civil Society to amplify its voice and leverage power to make the pace for political change. But is this something that Zuckerberg should just let the users figure out? Maybe.

Lacy:

 .........since you have such a platform, are there things you are doing proactively to do good in the world to take advantage of it, as a company?

Zuckerberg:  

I think what we are doing as a mission is a very important thing, helping people communicate more efficiently.....

....  when you ask about philanthropy, at this point in our development we are running the business around break even , we are not throwing off a lot of money, we are focusing on building the infrastructure where people can communicate and work on these things...

Well maybe the examples Zuckerberg gave were a bit clunky but even the celebrated Robert Scoble, despite an immersion at Davos, is at a loss to describe a social mission for web 2.0.

 But where Zuckerberg is rock solid, despite Lacy's leading question,  is to insist that the business model itself can and does deliver important social benefits without Facebook having to be 'proactive to do good in the world'. This is the path to a truly sustainable business where society does not have to rely on largesse but can depend on business owners operating a truly sustainable businesses.

Zuckerberg, despite his age and inexperience, has no problem conceiving the notion that a business can do good and do well at the same time and that it can carry out an inherent social mission as part of it's commerical strategy. Many CEO's three times his age with vast experience often fail to grasp this idea which Zuckerberg understands intuitively.