Mark Zuckerberg is probably going to run for president. Speculation about the Facebook CEO’s political ambitions has been swirling ever since he embarked on a highly publicized “personal” tour in January to meet Facebook users all over the country. Later that month, he hired former campaign managers for George W. Bush and Barack Obama and soon after released a perplexing manifesto about “building the world we all want.” The recent news that he has brought on pollster Joel Benenson to pursue vague philanthropic “research” sparked another flurry of “Zuckerberg for President?” articles, ranging from musings on his potential platform to advice on his path to the White House.
Kate Losse, who worked at Facebook from 2005 to 2010 and served as Zuckerberg’s ghostwriter for part of that time, has no doubt about what all this means: In an interview with The Nation, Losse said that a presidential run by Zuckerberg is “perfectly plausible.” She added that many of the journalists she’s spoken with have treated the idea as ridiculous, but to her it represents “the logical outcome of his current trajectory…. If he doesn’t run, I’ll be surprised.” And if Zuckerberg runs as a Democrat, he might even have a chance at winning the nomination: It’s not hard to imagine the party’s corporate-friendly leadership backing an “outsider” tech mogul in a desperate (if ill-fated) attempt to win back young Bernie Sanders voters.
There are a number of easy criticisms to make of a Zuckerberg candidacy, most of which have to do with either his geeky appearance or his mind-boggling fortune. These criticisms are fairly legitimate: Zuckerberg has been spotted in a suit maybe twice, and despite having come a long way from the “dissolving in a lake of his own sweat” days, he’s not known for his public-speaking skills. Even worse, he’s the ultimate poster boy for Silicon Valley, which isn’t exactly quite a selling point in a country currently witnessing populist surges on both the left and the right.
But there are deeper problems with Zuckerberg than his status as a corporate shill. His potential presidential candidacy should make us uneasy not because he’s a CEO, but because he’s the CEO of Facebook, the company responsible for the largest and most brazen data-collection project in human history.
As its user base has grown to encompass more than a quarter of the world’s population, Facebook has built an unparalleled system for tracking, analyzing, and exploiting our behavior. The company owns (and sells) a totally unregulated storehouse of data about our most minute habits and inclinations: what we bought and when and where, whose pictures we looked at and for how long, where our cursor moved, what we sent, what we typed but didn’t send, and what we deleted—not to mention patterns in our browsing history, our e-mail activity, and our facial structures. This fearsome data apparatus has been pitched as part of Facebook’s “journey to connect the world.” Losse’s memoir about the company’s early years, The Boy Kings, recounts how Zuckerberg instructed her to generate rhetoric that would justify Facebook’s burgeoning data-collection practices to the public.