Let’s stipulate that Mark Zuckerberg has political ambitions.
It’s not the best-kept secret in the world. Late last year, Facebook amended its ownership documents to allow Zuckerberg to keep the company even if he left temporarily “in connection with his serving in a government position or office.”
Zuckerberg’s 50-state listening tour, faithfully updated on Facebook, has not gone unnoticed, thanks to the bevy of PR pros documenting his every move. In Mississippi, the Exeter and Harvard-educated CEO has been hanging out with black bluesmen. In Alabama, le Zuck looked in on football coach Nick Saban and learned, “We all need to be part of something bigger than ourselves.”
In a display of jet-dark comedy, Zuckerberg visited some small-town newspapers “to say thank you to all the journalists around the world who work tirelessly and sometimes put their lives in danger to surface the truth.” These would be the newspapers that he and his Silicon Valley pals have rendered all but extinct.
Message: I care.
Earlier this month, Zuckerberg released a 5,700-word manifesto, “Building Global Community,” proving my longstanding contention that the Internet allows “writers” to blather on forever without coming to the end of a page. Sample by-the-numbers aperçu: “I’m so worried about sensationalism in media.”
Reading the “Mark Manifesto” is like sitting in church when someone with a guitar gets up and starts singing the Youngbloods’ hit “Come Together.” (“Everybody get together/Try to love one another right now.”) I’ve experienced both, and they are equally cringe-inducing.
Let’s say Zuckerberg is thinking about running for president. What’s wrong with that? At this point, government by ham sandwich seems like a pretty appetizing prospect.
As a rule, businesspeople rarely succeed in electoral politics. Voters aren’t customers or shareholders, and political gatekeepers aren’t like board members who always tell you what a great job you are doing. (In return for lucrative quarterly stipends.) George Soros, Sheldon Adelson, the chiaroscuro Koch brothers, and Warren Buffett have wisely chosen to influence politics from the sidelines. Only Medford-bred tough guy Michael Bloomberg has had the guts to face the voters, and he’s done well.
Then there is the question: Blowsy “manifestos” notwithstanding, what does Facebook really stand for? Facebook stands for “monetizing” (read: exploiting) hundreds of millions of people who think they are writing profound #NeverTrump mini-essays, or reveling in their granddaughter’s second-place finish (Live!) in the weekend track meet.
I know this dates me, but our system of government theoretically depends upon a social contract between the citizens and the governed. Individuals surrender certain rights to their government, which in turn grants them rights and protections in the form of laws.
Facebook enforces a very different kind of social contract. As Forbes’s Thomas Fox-Brewster recently wrote: “It’s akin to living in a whole new country where you’re subject to the laws and mores drafted by invisible overlords who quietly govern the way you live, with the pretense that this is what you want and they know best.”
The Silicon Valley titans’ cherished Grand Delusion is that they are “making the world a better place.” But in fact they have made the world a worse place. It is no accident, as the Marxists like to say, that President Obama singled out social media feeds as abetting the rise of “naked partisanship” in his erudite farewell address last month.
Facebook, Twitter, Google hangouts, and the like act as a megaphone for nuts peddling headlines like “Bill Gates Threatens World with Biological Weapons Menace.” In real life, these crazies would be relegated to the back room of the local tavern. By successfully gaming the Internet, they are a potent political force.
Mark Zuckerberg for Palo Alto City Council. Pretty much anybody else for president.
Alex Beam’s column runs regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.