Facebook founder befriends French president

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The Internet revolution reached the top level of world leadership Wednesday when Facebook pioneer Mark Zuckerberg met President Nicolas Sarkozy on the closing day of the first "e-G8" summit.

The encounter came on the second day of the major Internet and media gathering, which was fast becoming a face-off between the powers that be, big business and web rebels.

The 27-year-old American founder of the social networking site -- on which Sarkozy himself has a page for his network 'friends' -- visited the Elysee palace in a suit and appeared later in jeans and a T-shirt on stage at the e-G8.

He was diplomatic about the meeting with Sarkozy, a day after the president ruffled feathers with his line on Internet regulation.

"It was fun," the young New Yorker told the gathering. "I understand where he's coming from. I appreciate the chance to be here and be part of the dialogue."

Sarkozy kicked off the summit of top online and media barons on Tuesday, hailing their "Internet revolution" but warning them that some degree of government regulation was inevitable to avoid "democratic chaos."

In a half-empty meeting hall after Zuckerberg's exit, top media bosses in their closing session Wednesday debated a draft proposal for the G8 world leaders at their summit this week that governments should provide Internet access to citizens but not regulate online content.

Web freedom group Access Now attacked Sarkozy's stance.

"President Sarkozy's disastrous design for the Internet has become glaringly apparent," it said in a statement Wednesday.

"The world's most developed economies (the G8) are poised to impose strict copyright enforcement and heavy-handed government regulation of the Internet," it added, citing leaks of drafts of the e-G8 final declaration.

The e-G8 aims to draw up a declaration for the Group of Eight Leaders who meet in Deauville, northwestern France, on Thursday and Friday, with discussions covering sensitive issues such as online copyright and censorship.

Major players in the industry and politics approved Sarkozy's stance on regulation, particularly on protecting intellectual property from online privacy.

Sarkozy "did well in putting these questions in the agenda," the European Union's Digital Agenda Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, told the forum on Wednesday.

"Sometimes you need rules in the game, in particular when it's about global issues."

Several media rights and civil society groups including Reporters Without Borders held a news conference Wednesday complaining that the forum was giving a voice mainly to big businesses.

With blogs and Tweets oiling the wheels of revolution in some countries, and scans and downloads sparking trade disputes in others, the stakes are high for leaders seeking to profit from the web but also to rein in online crime.

Zuckerberg refused to take credit for enabling the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt by protestors coordinating online.

"Facebook was neither necessary nor sufficient for any of those things to happen," he said.

"I think a better example than those revolutions is that now heads of state have pages on Facebook" to commmunicate with their people, he added.

Top executives from online giants including Microsoft, Facebook, eBay and Amazon attended the gathering to tout the economic potential of the Internet.

Zuckerberg and other big hitters are due to personally deliver the e-G8's declaration to G8 leaders in Deauville.

© 2011 AFP

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