Mark Zuckerberg often broadcasts his yearly personal goals, which have included learning Mandarin, visiting every US state and running 365 miles. For 2019, he set the simple goal of discussing “the future of technology in society” with prominent thought leaders.
So far, he has held 9 conversations, which are all available online. Of the nine ‘leaders’ he has invited so far, there are 8 men and 1 woman. All of them are white.
“This year, I’m doing a series of public discussions on the future of the internet and society and some of the big related issues,” he said in a talk with the historian and author Yuval Noah Harari earlier this year. He intended to explore “the opportunities, the challenges, the hopes, and the anxieties” presented by tech in society. He claimed he wanted to chat to “leaders, industry experts, and folks in our local community from diverse fields”.
Hmmm. Zuckerberg has not responded to recent criticism of his narrow selection of ‘industry experts’. He may, lazily reach for the facts and state that 83% of tech executives are white.
But this would betray his previously stated interest to promote diversity in the tech industry.
In January this year, he wrote: “There are so many big questions about the world we want to live in and technology’s place in it. Do we want technology to keep giving more people a voice, or will traditional gatekeepers control what ideas can be expressed?”
— Rani Molla (@ranimolla) May 8, 2018
His narrow selection of ‘experts’ speaks to the platform people are given and allows us to confront questions of legitimacy, authority, of who has a voice, who are the ‘knowledge holders’ in our society. Who gets to speak? And who gets to shape the collective cognitive trajectories of the public?
Critically, let’s not forget ‘diversity’ is not just about race and gender. If Zuckerberg wanted the perspective of diverse community members, he’d need to reach for those from a spectrum of nationalities, class, ability, sexuality, sexual orientation, education and age.
For a millennial with perhaps the greatest power in his hands, Zuckerberg has indeed, disappointed us all.