Issue of the week: Mark Zuckerberg gets political
“Mark Zuckerberg has said he’s not running for president. And maybe he’s not,” said Alex Kantrowitz in BuzzFeed.com. But nobody would blame you for thinking that he has aspirations for higher office after hearing the 33-year-old Facebook CEO’s Harvard commencement speech last week. The university’s most famous dropout used the occasion to outline an unmistakable political platform, “preaching a form of compassionate globalism.” Perhaps most radically, Zuckerberg proposed that the U.S. explore a universal basic income, an unconditional stipend distributed to all Americans to provide a cushion against globalization and technological disruption. Dressed in a suit and tie instead of his signature gray T-shirt, the usually wooden Zuckerberg was surprisingly emotive, even choking back tears while describing an undocumented student he once mentored. If candidate Zuckerberg ever happens, he “will almost certainly” look like the man we just saw at Harvard.
“If Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want people to think he’s running for president, he hasn’t been all that convincing,” said Maya Kosoff in VanityFair.com. Last year, he pressed the Facebook board to approve a clause that would allow him to retain control of the company if he ever took a leave of absence to serve in government. He hired David Plouffe, President Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, to help run his philanthropy, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. But “perhaps the most obvious sign of his potential ambitions was his decision to challenge himself to meet ordinary Americans in every U.S. state.” Zuckerberg has spent the past few months rubbing shoulders with farmers, factory workers, and NASCAR drivers. He’s planted a community garden in Texas and fed a calf at a family farm in Wisconsin. “It’s hard to imagine that any of that was by accident.”
To critics, Zuckerberg’s road trip “is a stunt,” said Mike Isaac in The New York Times. Pit stops like an addiction center in Ohio have been meticulously documented by handlers and posted to Zuckerberg’s Facebook page. Zuckerberg himself says his travels are a way to connect with Facebook’s users. Those who know Zuckerberg say he’s serious about escaping the Silicon Valley bubble, especially as his company grapples with questions “about its responsibilities and its role in the lives of its users.” That includes a string of murder videos posted to the social network, as well as charges that it influenced the 2016 election through the spread of fake news. The trip, Zuckerberg’s colleagues say, has “plunged him into self-reflection.”
If Zuckerberg wants to make the world a better place, he should start closer to home—with Facebook, said Nitasha Tiku in Wired.com. Fewer than 4 percent of the social network’s U.S. employees are Hispanic, and just 2 percent are black. Sure, Facebook’s hiring practices might not seem as “world-changing” as ending poverty. But Zuckerberg is the respected leader of one of the world’s most powerful companies, and other firms will follow his lead. “Change starts local,” Zuckerberg said in his Harvard speech. “Even global changes start small—with people like us.” In his new do-gooder crusade, the CEO should take care not to “skip over the simplest solution.”