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If Atlas Shrugged, Will Facebook Buckle?

It's often been said that "karma is a bitch" and "what goes around comes around." In Mark Zuckerberg's case, karma is not only a bitch, she's "hell on wheels" and this go-around, she's leaving a maelstrom of controversy in her wake. For a man who's only lived 26 short years, he's scaled heights in one lifetime many of us could only dream about. That is... if we didn't have to incur a subsequent fall - which also looks karmically imminent.

Counterpart to Zuckerberg's brilliance in social media foresight and marketing savvy is this element of youthful naivete in the belief that one man's vision can become a world vision. This was  evident in the early years when he allegedly stole the idea for Facebook from his Harvard buddies, the Winklevoss twins, only later to betray another school chum, Eduordo Saverin out of an ownership stake.

First penned in Ben Mezrich's book "The Accidental Billionaires: Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal" and now readapted for the screen by the masterful screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, Zuckerberg's formative years at Harvard seem to have produced a leader of industry who while admired by many was detested by those closest to him.

The drafted screenplay of the movie, titled Social Network is now making its rounds on the Internet. Its heavy-handed treatment of Zuckerberg portrays him as a borderline autistic wunderkind, devoid of a moral compass and solely guided by self-interest and ruthless ambition. In this passage alone, one of Zuckerberg's love interests seems to sum up an impression shared by many.


According to Nick Summers' Newsweek report, "nothing sways public opinion like a movie - and this scorcher could counteract the entire body of good press Facebook has received until now." I guess Summers doesn't realize how much that' good press' has been diminished in the last month by Zuckerberg's solution to the 'ills of the world' - the launch of his almighty "Open Graph."

Atlas Shrugged written by Ayn Rand in 1957 is perhaps the one book that takes the deepest dive into her philosophy of 'ethical egoism' and 'rational selfishness.' The title of the book is best explained by a conversation held between the characters Francisco d'Anconia and Hank Rearden regarding who bears the brunt of the weight of the world.

"Mr. Rearden," said Francisco, his voice solemnly calm, "if you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down on his shoulders - what would you tell him to do?"

"I... don't know. What... could he do? What would you tell him?"

"To shrug."

To fully comprehend Francisco's foreboding response is to understand his metaphor for Atlas. In his view, Atlas represents the people. In essence, individuals are the Atlas of society. The question posed within the book is what would happen if the citizens of the world were to shrug?

Apparently Zuckerberg's world vision is similar. He sees the peoples of the world shrugging, and feels that he has arrived at the right moment in history to ease their burden.  

Like the poem by Emma Lazarus titled The New Colossus engraved on the Statue of Liberty that extends a welcome to "the huddled masses yearning to breath free," Zuckerberg sees himself as a beacon for those to explore his new world of "openness" and "transparency." Catch-phrases that by themselves have been bantered around enough this past year, even by the president of the United States. But in Zuckerberg's world view, at what cost?

Somehow, at 400,000 million people (Facebook's user-base), Zuckerberg perceives his social network as it's own sovereign state. He is not alone, Google also has been self-deluded into thinking that their strength in numbers gives them the power to negotiate with superpowers the size of China. Apparently with large populations comes the belief that you have become an omnipresent force to be reckoned with, ready to take on the major burden of directing the world and its people into the future. Like the immigrants welcomed by the words of Lazurus, Zuckerberg feels a responsibility to his influx of followers to guide them to his new found land.

In Rand's book, while economic conditions worsen and government agencies continued to enforce their control on successful businesses, the naive, yet weary mass of citizens are often heard reciting the new, popular street phrase, "Who is John Galt?" While seemingly Christ-like, this savior-like character is markedly different from a spirtual leader. Instead of compassion, Rand's Galt is motivated by "selflessness" or an enlightened self-interest. Similar to the latter-day fictional character of Gordon Gekko ("Greed is Good") and also hearkening back to Machiavellian goal posts where the end justifies the means, Zuckerberg is similarly trying to force his square "Open Graph" peg into his new capitalistic round hole.

In my previous post titled, "Facebook's 'Open Graph' Targets Google Ad Dollars," Zuckerberg's focus on 'openness' and 'transparency' is not so much to create a better interconnectedness for all of us on the Web as it is to vanquish Google and become the heir-apparent King of the Internet.  Echoing the immortal words of James Cagney's "top of the world, Mom," I think as high as Zuckerberg has risen, his fall is going to be just as dramatic.

And that drama will not only be played out on computer screens. If Zuckerberg does not address these privacy issues in a satisfactory and expeditious manner prior to the October debut of Social Network on the big screen, he runs the risk of shrugging himself, and losing the control and credibility that he has fought these last six years of his short life to build.

Cast of "Social Network"Cast of "Social Network"