Dear Zuck (as I think you like to be called),
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There’s a rumour going around that one day you’d like to be President. I mean, why else would anyone go to Iowa?2
What’s more, you’ve started employing some of the nation’s top political talent: Joel Benson3, Hilary Clinton’s chief strategist; David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s campaign manager; and Ken Mehlman, George W Bush’s campaign manager. The headline on Quartz4 reporting the Mehlman hire, said all that needed to be said: “Mark Zuckerberg just hired the guys who helped win three of the last four presidential elections.” I don’t expect you’ve finished either and will it be long before you have key people from all four of the most recent presidential victories on your wage bill?
When Americans actually trust politicians even less than car salesmen (literally: 9% salesmen, 8% pols)5 you’ve clearly got a shot. As Donald Trump showed, there’s an appetite within the American electorate for outsiders and – in contrast to the current Tweeter-in-chief who inherited a fortune – you’re a more genuine example of the American dream. And considerably richer. Twenty times richer, according to estimates by Forbes6 You’re also nicer than the current guy. More charitable. And, what’s more, no one is suggesting you’re a Russian agent. No surprise, then, that you’re tied at 40% with Donald Trump in one head-to-head survey7 – even before all of your campaign advisers have begun to market you.
But, equally, you’re on 40% before Mr Trump or Senator Elizabeth Warren or any other yet-to-be-identified opponent has done the ‘oppo’8 in order to open fire on you. And I hate to be a party pooper but there’s plenty of ammunition which will be coming your way if you do decide that at 36 years old9.
Here are ten attack lines that could cause you some serious damage:
- Facebook collects up to 98 pieces of data on more than two billion people in the world. If data is the new oil, that makes Facebook the most powerful company in the world today – perhaps ever.
- It took Facebook EIGHT MONTHS10 to confess to the $100,000 spent by Russia on 3,000 pro-Trump ads.
- Facebook enabled advertisers to target their products to users of the world’s largest social network who had expressed interest in “How to burn Jews,” and “Why Jews ruin the world.”11
- It takes social media firms like Facebook 36 hours on average to remove extremist propaganda from organisations like ISIS. The British government thinks it should only take two hours12
- In many countries Facebook hardly pays any corporate tax at all.13 And it’s unclear how much it actually pays in the US. One expert writing in the business magazine Forbes says “it would not surprise me at all to find that Facebook has never actually paid any federal income tax, despite the substantial provisions that you see.”14
- The BBC discovered 100 images of ‘child abuse’ on Facebook earlier this year. Not only were 80% of these images NOT removed, Facebook reported Britain’s public service broadcaster to the police15.
- Six of Facebook’s eight directors are white men. A company that claims to be global has no black, no Hispanic and no Asian board members.
- Facebook blocked 55,000 pieces of content in just six months – at the request of censorious countries like Russia. It is now developing software that will stop content likely to upset China’s government from even appearing16.
- The European Commission just fined Facebook €110 million for providing misleading information after it had bought WhatsApp17.
- Facebook hardly does any journalism itself but with Google is getting 99% of growth in digital advertising. A free country needs a free press and that free press needs advertising.
You’ve seen the attack ads that characterise US elections, Mark. Attacks on your presidential bid might not just destroy any hopes you may have of being the youngest ever occupant of the Oval Office – they could do serious damage to the company you’ve built, too.
Do you want that? The tide does seem to be turning against you and your fellow tech giants just at the moment. Look at Uber’s difficulties in London. Apple’s battle with the European Union on tax. More and more local protests at Airbnb from people who feel they are being priced out of their communities by this letting game
Which brings me to a key question. Why exactly do you want to be president – and so early in your life? Are you wanting to help the machinery of the American state catch up with the possibilities of technology? Washington DC certainly needs more Silicon Valley – as I’ve written18 Or do you want to be the person who stops someone like Elizabeth Warren from becoming president, with her agenda19 of stopping tech giants from doing more of what you’ve done – swallowing up the competition? I think of Instagram ($1bn), WhatsApp ($19bn), and Oculus ($2bn).
As you and your wife mull the potentially momentous decision to run or not, here are one or two things you might like to address first. Actually, ten. Some more important than others. They’re my suggestions for moves you might make in the next couple of years to give your candidacy a better chance – and, if you don’t run, are the right things to do anyway.