|Pope Francis meets with Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerber and his wife Priscilla Chan at the Vatican Aug. 29, 2016. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano|
According to an Aug. 29 communique from the Vatican, Francis and Zuckerberg, who was accompanied by his wife Priscilla Chan, “spoke of how to use communication technologies to alleviate poverty, encourage the culture of encounter and bring a message of hope, especially to the most disadvantaged.”
The theme of poverty and bringing a message of hope to the poor and marginalized is something Francis has spoken about ceaselessly since his election, barely stopping to take a breath in the past three years.
Though he has publicly admitted in interviews to not owning a cell phone or using the computer, it seems that Pope Francis sees the value of the digital age, specifically in terms of the benefits new technologies can bring to evangelization and promoting human dignity.
His meeting with Zuckerberg and Chan marks the fourth time he has met with a major tech head this year.
On Jan. 15 he welcomed Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, for a private meeting at the Vatican. A week later, he granted another private audience to Apple CEO Tim Cook.
The Pope has also made an effort to engage with big name celebrities who share topics of interest such as Leonardo DiCaprio, with whom he met Jan. 28 in an encounter that focused on issues related to climate change and the environment.
He has also started to make waves on social media, opening a Twitter account in 2012 and launching his own Instagram March 19, just weeks after his Feb. 26 meeting with the CEO and co-founder of Instagram, Kevin Systrom at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
The reason behind Francis’ meeting with Zuckerberg, who co-founded Facebook with college roommates and fellow students at Harvard in 2004, could be prompted by Zuckerberg and Chan’s decision in 2015 to give away virtually all of their $45 billion in Facebook Inc. shares.
As of August 2016, Zuckerberg has an estimated net worth of $53.7 billion, making him one of the top 5 richest people in the world.
When Pope Francis notes, then, as he has frequently done, that according to some studies “80% of the world’s riches are in the hands of 17% of the population,” he’s referring to Zuckerberg.
However, after their daughter Maxina was born in late 2015, Zuckerberg and Chan announced Dec. 2, 2015, in an open letter to her that they would be donating 99 percent of their Facebook stock during their lives through the “Chan Zuckerberg Initiative,” aimed at advancing human potential and promoting equality “for all children in the next generation.”
In their letter, the couple said they had a “moral responsibility” not just to their daughter, but “to all children in the next generation” to make the world a better place.
“Our society has an obligation to invest now to improve the lives of all those coming into this world, not just those already here,” they wrote. “But right now, we don’t always collectively direct our resources at the biggest opportunities and problems your generation will face.”
The couple said their goals in donating their funds would focus on “advancing human potential and promoting equality,” and would consist of several long-term investments made in areas such as health and education, while at the same time working to decrease inequality and use technology to bring about positive change.
Previously, in 2012, Zuckerberg and Chan had agreed to put the majority of their wealth to similar use with The Giving Pledge, a campaign founded by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in 2010 to encourage the world’s wealthiest people to use their money toward philanthropic causes.
In May, a report from Gizmodo dropped the equivalent of a social media bomb when several former Facebook employees said the company routinely suppressed conservative news in the social media giant's “trending news” section.
The former Facebook news curators said they were sometimes instructed to insert stories into the “trending” section that had not earned enough attention to be a trending topic, or that they had the freedom to “blacklist” topics that they didn’t want to appear in the section, meaning that the section was not organically curated by the interests of other Facebook users, contrary to popular thought.
Although Facebook denied any allegations of bias and said they had launched an investigation into the issue, the episode has left many skeptical, and doubts remain.