Monday, November 27, 2017

Do we really want Mark Zuckerberg to run the world? By John Harris

The question is almost a year old, and not currently being asked in quite the feverish way it was over the summer. But let’s try it again: could Mark Zuckerberg run for US president? The founder, chairman and CEO of Facebook began 2017 by announcing his latest “challenge”: a pledge to visit the 30 US states he had never spent time in before, which has now been achieved. Along the way, he has made a point of meeting Trump voters, sampling the mood in post-industrial backwaters, and seeing at first hand evidence of his country’s opioid crisis. He now talks about the importance of community, and the need for his generation to find a collective sense of purpose, rather suggesting the leading actor in a school play about Bobby Kennedy.

Some of you have asked if this challenge means I’m running for public office,” he wrote back in May. The previous month, he had dinner with a Trump-supporting family in Newton Falls, Ohio, who didn’t seem to mind that he brought his own food and a retinue of aides, and were reportedly told: “If there are any news reporters that call you, just make sure you tell them I’m not running for president.” There again, we also know that close associates have spoken to him about “the gov’t service thing” and how his embrace of it might play with Facebook’s shareholders; that his charity has hired a handful of Washington insiders, including David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager; and that he has taken the strange step of publicly renouncing his atheism.

For the time being, though, Zuckerberg’s possible political ambitions are not really the issue. Far more important is what we know already: that his power is titanic, and Facebook is shaping millions of people’s understanding of who they are and their place in the world, often in grim ways. To be more specific, Facebook’s promotion of “fake news” remains a huge issue. The story of its manipulation by geopolitical forces – Russia, chiefly – that see it as an effective means of shaping the world has only started to be exposed. Facebook’s weakening of the traditional fourth estate continues apace, with profound consequences for how power is held to account, not least in Facebook’s own case.

Meanwhile, nothing appears to have shaken Zuckerberg and his close associates’ dream of a communication platform that will collect such a huge volume of personal information that it will become a kind of ever-expanding global brain – and, as an added bonus, the only reliable means of marketing things to people... read more: