Mark Zuckerberg swears he doesn’t want to run for president. Even if that’s true, the Facebook CEO’s downtime looks an awful lot like politicking. For the past few months, Zuckerberg has been on a 50-state charm tour of America, getting to know average Joes outside of his Silicon Valley bubble. (See Business columns.) He’s visited a rodeo in Texas, a church in South Carolina, and a fire station in Indiana. He’s met with a host of campaign mainstays—military spouses, recovering opioid addicts, and former mill workers—and all of his meet and greets have been artfully photographed and posted to his Facebook page. Zuckerberg earnestly insists he simply wants to get to know some of his social network’s 2 billion users, and to think about how to carry out his 2015 pledge to give away the bulk of his $60 billion fortune. But such denials have done little to tamp down speculation that he’s planning to throw his hoodie into the political ring before long.
When he started a social network for college guys to meet girls, Zuckerberg could not have dreamed it would one day make him one of the world’s richest and most influential people. Facebook’s spectacular success has thrust upon him roles and responsibilities he never really sought. He’s insisted for years that Facebook wasn’t a media company, only to see it become the most influential player in global news. He swears the platform is nonpartisan, only to be caught up in controversies involving the suppression of conservative content and accusations that rampant fake news helped sway the 2016 election. Zuckerberg surely now understands that because of Facebook’s unprecedented reach, his creation doesn’t just enrich people’s lives—it shapes them. So when he says progress depends on building a “global community,” he may not be campaigning, just grappling with the forces he’s set in motion. His platform will influence elections for years to come—whether he’s running or not.