Why Did Mark Zuckerberg Visit Russia?

By Yulia Koval-Molodtsova

Mark Zuckerberg gives Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev a T-shirt printed with his Facebook address.

The Russian Internet community is wondering about  Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg’s recent visit to Moscow. He arrived in Russia on Sept. 30, and the first places he went were the Red Square and Moscow’s central McDonalds. He then had a meeting with the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is well-known for his interest in new technologies. The meeting lasted about 20 minutes. It was a very formal and almost pointless conversation, wrote many media reports.  At the end, Zuckerberg presented the Russian PM with a T-shirt that had a print of Medvedev’s personal Facebook address.

Zuckerberg’s impressions of Russia are posted on his personal page on Facebook. One is: “Good conversation with Prime Minister Medvedev.”  Another is “Hello, Moscow,” which is illustrated by the photo of Zuckerberg in front of Russia’s famous St. Basil Cathedral at the Red Square.

The following day he attended the Hackathon, which is a brainstorming session where programmers create and demonstrate add-ons for Facebook.  The Moscow session was the last stop on Facebook’s World Hack tour, wrote The Moscow Times.

Just before leaving Russia on Oct. 2,  Zuckerberg met with a large group of selected students from Moscow State University. This meeting didn’t seem to go well. He only managed to answer a few questions and to present the Head of University with a Facebook-branded hoodie. He then left after failing to answer a student’s question about his favorite book. He did promise students to come back in a couple of years and continue the dialogue.

Zuckerberg also appeared on the Russian’s First Channel late-night TV show, which was probably the most interesting outcome of his visit in terms of learning more about his personality. This is best described in an NBC Bay Area report. “Zuckerberg also opened up about his life, saying the reason why he wears so many T-shirts is because he was forced to wear a boarding school uniform for so long,” the NBC report stated.  He also explained why he chose Facebook’s blue color scheme. “I’m color-blind. Blue is the color I see best,” he said.

Some Russian experts were puzzled by the fact that Zuckerberg didn’t meet with the oligarch Alisher Usmanov, who was one of the first Russian businessmen to invest in Facebook in 2009. The most popular version of Zuckerberg’s reason for this visit was that he came to Russia to hunt for new IT-specialists or even to open a Facebook branch office after a Russian programmer won Facebook’s Hacker Cup competition. There is no evidence that any hunting or hiring happened.

Most Russian bloggers and IT industry experts agree that Zuckerberg’s visit was a PR-campaign in support of Facebook expansion in Russia combined with a natural tourist curiosity. Russia is a growing market for the social network business.  This year, 82 percent of the Russian population is using social networks compared to 53 percent in 2010, according to the Russian Public Opinion Research Center.

The PR-campaign version makes even more sense, as according to SocialBakers, Russia is the world’s ninth-largest country by total population, but it only ranks 30th in Facebook users.   Local companies like VK.com and SUP, which owns LiveJournal, a U.S.-based site popular in Russia, are dominant instead, says the Business Insider website.

Pool photo by Yekaterina Shtukina

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