Marking time is a military term for marching in place. It refers to soldiers who move their legs and feet but who nevertheless stay in place as opposed to moving forward – which is the case now with Mark Zuckerberg. The iconic, demonic, founder and CEO of Facebook is in a holding pattern. He’s in a quandary really, brilliant as always at business, less than brilliant as always at navigating the roiling waters in which inevitably he is situated.
For all his singular success, Zuckerberg is under attack now not only from without – in addition to competitors, regulators at home and abroad are aching to rein him in – but from within. Facebook’s own employees are increasingly emboldened, daring openly to challenge company policies at odds with their values.
It happened recently when Facebook helped India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stifle dissent. It happened recently when Facebook removed posts from prominent Palestinian activists. And, of course, it happened not long ago when Facebook still gave former President Donald Trump access to its platform, no matter how outrageous his claims, no matter how fallacious his insistences.
To beat back the growing opposition, Zuckerberg created an oversight board, likened to a supreme court composed of supremely clever and beneficent sages charged with keeping Facebook on the straight and narrow. But the board serves at Zuckerberg’s pleasure. This does not mean that it is meaningless. It does mean that it is powerless at least as an independent agent able to check and balance the man to whom it is, after all, ultimately responsible.
Zuckerberg is not a leader in any conventional sense of this word. He is a czar. A czar whose reach is as expansive as the planet he inhabits. Which is why it will take the power of the people finally, someday, properly to rein him in. Meantime Mark marks time. He does not slide backward – but nor does he in ways that most matter move forward.