The biggest surprise to come out of the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal and subsequent Congressional grilling of CEO Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the fact that the private data of users was compromised. Instead, it’s now become clear that Mark Zuckerberg either didn’t watch enough Star Trek: The Next Generation, or, if he did, failed to glean any of the show’s ethical messages.
Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the House Energy & Commerce Committee Wednesday for the second of his two testimony hearings. At the same time, a meme spread like wildfire on Twitter and elsewhere. In every variation, the meme juxtaposes Mark Zuckerberg with the android Mr. Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The joke here is that Zuckerberg stole our data, and Data is named Data. The bigger joke is that despite being a synthetic literal robot, Data is a heroic and utterly moral person, while Zuckerberg seems at times to be an unfeeling and cold robot.
In the narrative of Star Trek, Data is a humanoid robot without emotions but programmed with tons of ethical subroutines that make him the purest person in all of science fiction. Save for rare instances (like when his evil brother corrupts him) Data cannot be ethically compromised, at all. Data also wants to figure out how to become “more human,” which seems to be the opposite of Mark Zuckerberg.
The latest celebrity to tweet about Zuckerberg/Evil Mr. Data testifying before Congress is actor Anson Mount, who was just cast as Captain Christoper Pike in Star Trek: Discovery.
Some variations of the meme like to point out that Mark Zuckerberg has a passing resemblance to Data actor Brent Spiner, but the real irony is that Data would be totally disgusted by Zuckerberg’s shady ethics. In one interesting parallel, Data’s original backstory involved being programmed with the memories of 411 human colonists.
However, Data was pretty cool about not divulging the contents of those memories, even though all those people were murdered by a giant space tree called the Crystalline Entity. Also, when Data was put on trial in the episode “A Measure of a Man”, he straight up refused to talk about his sex life when questioned because he cared about his privacy, and the privacy of Tasha Yar, who was also dead. The point is, in multiple Star Trek episodes, Data respects people’s privacy.
In The Next Generation episode “The Child,” cranky Dr. Pulaski gives Data grief about the pronunciation of his name. On the show, Data is pronounced “dayta” but Pulaski wants to call him “dahta.” When he objects, she says, “What’s the difference?” Data responds, “One is my name, the other is not.”
Does Mark Zuckerberg understand this single battle-cry of personal freedom and individuality? Or does he identify with a different Star Trek character completely? People on Facebook have been using the world “hivemind” as a joke for years. But, while Mr. Data fought against the individuality-destroying hivemind of the Borg, it seems like Zuckerberg is just starting to create it.