PROVO, Utah, March 28, 2011 - Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) visited Provo, Utah, Friday to answer questions posted to the Brigham Young University Facebook page.
Sen. Hatch joked that he was glad to be there with Zuckerberg, but that the senator was still hoping he would accept his friend request.
As Chairman of the Senate Republican High Tech Task Force, Sen. Hatch had previously met Zuckerberg after a congressional meeting, where he invited him to speak at BYU. Dressed in a zip-up hoodie and jeans, the former computer science and psychology major spoke to several thousand students, faculty, and members of the public in his first ever University forum address. Sen. Hatch directed the questions, which were taken from BYU’s Facebook page.
Most student questions dealt with technology and public policy, delving into privacy concerns and addressing the government’s role in regulating Internet companies. Sen. Hatch asserted, “the best thing Congress can do is keep out of the way.”
“A lot of people were afraid of sharing things on the Internet, initially,” Zuckerberg explained while addressing privacy concerns, "but [on Facebook], you control who sees the information. There’s no downside.”
The Facebook chief pointed out that Facebook has worked to protect privacy for younger users, adjusting the default information-sharing settings for those under 13 years of age.
Zuckerberg also explained efforts to protect users’ personal information, identifying a feature that requires users logging in to Facebook from a unique location of the world to first recognize their “friends” in order to confirm their identity. He noted that Facebook users concerned about privacy should realize that their social connections provide an even stronger way to protect their information.
The 26-year-old billionaire also showed interest in Sen. Hatch’s approach to technology policy.
“A lot of people want to tax the Internet,” said the six-term senator, “[but] one reason we have so much innovation on the Internet is because of a lack of regulation.”
Sen. Hatch made his stance clear, noting, “I prefer keeping innovation alive.” He also pointed to research and development tax credits as a way to stimulate technological innovation.
In addition to the answering questions related to technology and public policy, Zuckerberg spoke of Facebook and other social networking sites as “catalysts for reform,” a reference to the role of technology in the current revolutions in the Middle East. He also mentioned peace.facebook.com, a site based on the Facebook platform and dedicated to tracking connections between regions historically in conflict.
Time magazine's 2010 Person of the Year spoke of technology’s potential to transform education, a transformation he described as, “really disruptive [but] in a positive way.” He referred to a difficulty in measuring students’ learning that could be more easily addressed with the use of technology than through more traditional approaches.
In their questions, students also tended to seek advice from the former Harvard undergraduate. Zuckerberg emphasized the importance of his psychology classes in understanding people, an integral part of running a business and living a successful life.
“You have to love and believe in what you’re doing,” he said. “Life can be hard, and you encounter challenges, so if you don’t love what you do, it might even be rational to give up.”
He also explained that in hiring employees, “we look for what they've shown initiative to do on their own - did they just attend classes, or did they do more beyond that? People don’t get put into roles; they create them for themselves.”