Dear Zuck (as I think you like to be called),
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.
- Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Editor of the Technology section of UnHerd.com – a new website which, as one of its priorities, will be examining how we ensure that Facebook and other tech giants work for societies across the planet (rather than the other way round).
- The small, midwestern state of Iowa plays a unique role in the US primary election system, as the “caucuses” – small-group events across the state – are the first event in the long process to select the candidates of each party. These caucuses have picked the successful nominee around half the time. In a Facebook post (where else?), on 3 January of this year, Mark Zuckerberg explained it this way: “My personal challenge for 2017 is to have visited and met people in every state in the US by the end of the year. I’ve spent significant time in many states already, so I’ll need to travel to about 30 states this year to complete this challenge.”
- “Benenson is the latest in a series of seemingly political hires that Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have made as they expand their nonprofit, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, including 2008 Obama campaign manager David Plouffe and former Virginia governor Tim Kaine’s communications adviser, Amy Dudley.” – report in Vanity Fair, 3 August 2017.
- “The choice to hire from both sides of the political aisle—with Plouffe and Mehlman—is notable in light of Facebook’s scandal over suppressing conservative news last May, and its controversial role in spreading fake news and fostering politically polarised echo chambers ahead of the election.” – from Quartz, 10 January 2017.
- Gallup survey, from December 2016, car salespeople “enjoyed” “very high” or “high” level of trust from 9% of Americans and – at the bottom of the table – Members of Congress scored 8%. Top, by the way, were nurses.
- Forbes estimated Mr Trump’s total worth at $3.5 billion and Mr Zuckerberg’s at $69.7 billion – Forbes.
- The July 2017 survey, reported by Business Insider also gave Mr Zuckerberg a 24% favourable rating and a 29% unfavourable rating – with 47% undecided.
- “Oppo” or opposition research refers to the American political practice of investigating candidates to find negative information about them. Here’s a how-to guide: The Opposition Research Handbook, 4th edition
- Which will be Mr Zuckerberg’s age at the time of the next presidential contest – meaning Facebook’s founder will just exceed the minimum age of 35 that the Constitution specifies for anyone wanting to be Commander-in-Chief. But, notably, he’ll be six years younger than the previous youngest ever president – Theodore Roosevelt – who, in September 1901, was 42 years and 322 days old.
- The delay received the Maureen Dowd treatment on 23 September 2017, New York Times
- This was exposed by ProPublica, 14 September 2017.
- ‘Tech giants told to remove extremist content much faster’, TechCrunch, 20 September 2017.
- Adam Creighton, The Australian, 20 May 2017: “The five US technology giants at the helm of the digital revolution wreaking havoc on the media, retailers and financial services are paying as little as less than 1 per cent of their local earnings in tax — about one-fifteenth as much as the major banks — despite new rules meant to stamp out tax avoidance by multinationals. Analysis by The Weekend Australian of the 2016 profit-and-loss statements of Google, Facebook, Apple, eBay and PayPal, which together employ fewer than 6,500 people in Australia, show their tax expenses as a share of revenue varied between 0.8 per cent (PayPal) and 1.5 per cent (Google).”
- Los Angeles Times, 14 July 2016. Peter Reilly in Forbes for November 3, 2016
- “The BBC used the report button to alert the company to 100 images which appeared to break its guidelines. They included: pages explicitly for men with a sexual interest in children images of under-16s in highly sexualised poses, with obscene comments posted beside them groups with names such as “hot xxxx schoolgirls” containing stolen images of real children an image that appeared to be a still from a video of child abuse, with a request below it to share “child pornography” Of the 100 images only 18 were removed.”BBC News, 7 March 2017
- New York Times report, 22 November 2016.
- European Commission statement, 18 May 2017
- ‘Don’t go South, Mr President: Go West!*’, 1 August 2017
- Senator Elizabeth Warren’s speech of 29 June 2016, “Reigniting competition in the American economy” set out her concern at concentrations of power in retailing, air travel, finance — and, far from last or least in her list, technology.