The one moment that really stood out to me during today's Senate hearing on Facebook was when Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan asked Zuck about China.
Sullivan: “Mr. Zuckerberg, quite a story, right? Dorm room to the global behemoth that you guys are. Only in America, would you agree with that?”
Zuckerberg: “Senator, mostly in America.”
Sullivan: “You couldn’t — you couldn’t do this in China, right? Or, what you did in 10 years.”
Zuckerberg: “Well — well, Senator, there are — there are some very strong Chinese internet companies.”
Sullivan: “Right but — you’re supposed to answer ‘yes’ to this question. OK, come on, I’m trying to help you, right? I mean, give me a break. You’re in front of a bunch of… the answer is ‘yes,’ OK, so thank you.”
The room erupts in laughter, everyone writes it off as a joke.
But what really strikes me is the arrogance of question and even more the ignorance with which the Senator insists on wanting to hear a Yes. It’s this surreal echo-chamber-esque moment where all the Senators want to feel good that only in the US – and nowhere else in the world – such success story would be possible. He could have equally asked: “aren’t we just fucking amazing and simply better than the rest of the world?”
It reminds me a lot of the many conversations I had with VCs in the Valley after I returned from my first trip to China two years ago. I would ask them: “what’s your China strategy? The most ridiculous answer I got was “oh, we all have WeChat accounts.” But even the best answers weren’t enough (“we are thinking of taking all our partners there on a trip” or “one of our portfolio companies is opening an office in China”).
The US has an arrogance and entitlement problem. And so does Silicon Valley. This notion that “if it’s not from here, it’s no good” (SV) or that “only in the US this could have been the case” (US) are harmfully reinforcing messages that create a massive blind spot which will continue to lead to the long-term decline of both Silicon Valley and the US.
To be clear, the FB success story as we know it is unique and could have only happened in the US. We simply don't know what FB would look like if Zuckerberg had started it in China, but as he pointed out, there are some very strong Chinese tech companies, some of which – take Tencent f.ex. – have even managed to surpass FB in market value and are even more integrated into every-day life.
So no, China would have not spat out the version of FB as we know it today, but if these senators had the slightest idea of what's going on beyond their boarders, they would understand that the US isn't the only place where successful companies can be built.