Mark Zuckerberg’s Lesson in Hawaiian Land Rights
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had a great deal of success. (As well as the occasional setback.) One of the more frustrating episodes in his recent life may have come when he engaged in what should have been a deeply enjoyable activity: establishing a home in Hawaii.
Understand that the property was successfully acquired. Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan paid over $100 million for 700 acres on the North Shore of Kauai, including a former sugar plantation. (This is a relatively modest purchase by tech billionaire standards: Larry Ellison acquired 98 percent of the Hawaiian island of Lanai.)
Then it got complicated, for land rights aren’t so simple in Hawaii. Within this property, there was an eight-acre stretch partitioned during the 1850s. (Hawaii only started privatizing land in 1848.) In turn, Zuckerberg soon found that his acquisition was actually 13 pieces of property (none larger than an acre), which in many cases were at least theoretically owned by multiple people.
The result: Zuckerberg’s lawyers filed eight lawsuits, in the process suing hundreds of Hawaiians. While Zuckberg’s attorneys insisted they wanted just to find and compensate the people for their land, locals were outraged. Theoretically, they could be forced to pay court costs and even the hardiest among us are wary of a legal battle with a billionaire. A University of Hawaii law professor even proclaimed the lawsuits the “face of neocolonialism.”
Zuckerberg has since dropped the lawsuits, announcing in a letter to the local newspaper that “we are dropping our quiet title actions and will work together with the community on a new approach.” Whatever the outcome, it’s a reminder of the complexities of introducing property rights to a society that had previously lacked them, and how there can be ripple effects even 150 years later. To read more about the case, click here. To read Zuckerberg’s full announcement that the lawsuits were being dropped in The Garden Island, click here. To get a taste of the beauty of this Hawaiian island, take a trip via drone below.
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