For even the hero-prince, twilight comes. It seems so long ago, now, the great harvest of technological progress we were guaranteed. In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg set forth a radical mandate: to completely rewire how humans connect and, thus, how we shape the future. It was a time of pre-Recession idealism—and because we, too, believed in his gospel of transformation, because we sought nourishment in a time of coming fracture, we found shelter and community in the social network. How grand and infinite Facebook seemed then, as if it contained all the answers we needed in a changing world. It was a utopia.
Until it wasn’t.
As the years passed, a kind of dark cloud took residence above our digital biodome. The sun shone a little less thrillingly. The community quickly grew in size—a global body open to everyone. Volume seemed to be the hero-prince’s singular pursuit—but to what end? We wondered. We watched. Slowly, skepticism drove our convictions. The ground on which our faith stood weakened; mud cushioned our toes. A foul odor began to stain the air. Our fears, we learned, were not entirely unfounded. Facebook was perhaps not the paradise we imagined it to be.
On Wednesday, Zuckerberg appeared on Capitol Hill in a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee where he faced deep criticism from lawmakers who worry that the social network now wields a difficult kind of influence—it’s become too big even for itself. Concerns lobbed at Zuck ran the gamut, from the proliferation of hate speech and disinformation via political ads to misgivings about user privacy and Libra, the platform’s cryptocurrency venture that, as WIRED’s Steven Levy reported, “is in trouble—partners are leaving, regulators are vowing to ban it, and legislators like [Rep. Maxine] Waters think Facebook should declare a moratorium on the plan.”
The issues boiled down to matters of trust. Was the hero-prince still worthy of our belief in his mission, in his flawed kingdom? “You’re creating a whole new currency, which could be anonymous, that could create a whole new threat to Americans and national security,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney told Zuckerberg, “which is a huge concern.”
Photographer Al Drago’s snapshot of Zuckerberg outside Wednesday’s hearing lends him a specific Hitchcock spookiness. It’s a fitting one, too. From a distance, we catch him in profile—battle-wounded, perhaps a bit fatigued, a specter of unknowable intentions. My eyes freeze on the column of light where Zuckerberg stands. He’s a figure shrouded in starless black even as the light attempts to embrace him. He wears it like a cloak. It reads like a parable for our modern era: That the powerful and the well-meaning must too face the dusk of innovation—that all progress comes at a cost.