The Facebook CEO views all politics as merely instrumental to the fortunes of his company
What are Mark Zuckerberg’s politics? Based on recent events, one might assume the young billionaire favors American conservatism, even explicit Republican positions.
On Thursday, NBC News revealed that the CEO of Facebook had a secret dinner at the White House in October with President Donald Trump. Zuckerberg was accompanied by Facebook board member and long-time mentor Peter Thiel. Thiel is notorious among Silicon Valley billionaires for explicitly endorsing Trump in 2016 and speaking at the Republican National Convention that year. Thiel, a libertarian who runs a company that enhances government surveillance efforts, has also questioned the value of women voting.
That October dinner was the second in two months at which Zuckerberg dined with Trump. It followed a series of dinners at Zuckerberg’s home in California with conservative pundits and activists like white supremacist Tucker Carlson of Fox News.
Recently, Zuckerberg has warned his employees that the potential election of liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren to the presidency would be an “existential” threat to his company. And when Senator Bernie Sanders suggested taxing his fellow billionaires to fund essential government programs, Zuckerberg responded that billionaires might know better than government-sponsored scientists how to deploy resources as precious as funds for research.
But if I had asked that question about Zuckerberg’s politics in 2016, I could have listed such incidents as his full embrace of immigration reform and an increase in the sort of visa that allows immigrants to work for US technology companies in large numbers. Zuckerberg used to march in pride parades and Facebook was among a number of companies that filed briefs supporting the court case to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States.
President Barack Obama and Zuckerberg were close throughout the eight years of the Obama presidency. They appeared together at several public events and Zuckerberg even called the president after the revelations from Edward Snowden showed that the US government had tapped Facebook’s system to surveil private communications.
And, despite all the panic about Cambridge Analytica allegedly using Facebook user data to help Republican electoral efforts, Obama’s 2012 campaign also exported data on millions of voters and deployed them to target get-out-the-vote efforts.
It’s safe to say that Zuckerberg’s politics are issue-specific and generally party-agnostic. He has always wanted US immigration policy to supply his company with exploitable foreign labor. He wants his taxes to be low so he and his buddies can decide how to fund schools and efforts to fight climate change.
Zuckerberg generally takes the sort of libertarian view toward the free movement of people around the globe. His social milieu has always been elite, educated, multicultural, and wealthy. He has learned his politics from mentors who take a “noblesse oblige” attitude toward the world.
Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard after two years. Zuckerberg has enrolled for the past decade at the University of Davos, where rich people pretend they are smart and smart people pander to the rich. If someone chooses to study world politics from Henry Kissinger, you can assume that he will have some twisted views of how the world works.
Zuckerberg’s politics favor two things: the interests of Facebook and people like him. So it’s no wonder Zuckerberg got close to the two American presidents who have served over his company’s history. Since the the world abandoned its mindless worship of Facebook and Silicon Valley in recent years, Zuckerberg has been on a constant if unsuccessful campaign to save face and stem efforts to regulate or fracture his company.
So the problem with Zuckerberg’s politics is not just that they seem to have turned to the right. His politics have not changed at all. The world has. The problem is that by choosing an amoral set of principles and positions he has become deeply immoral.
Facebook placed staff in the offices of Rodrigo Duterte when he ran for president of the Philippines in 2016, even though Duterte ran on an explicit platform of vigilante violence and extrajudicial killings – a pledge he has kept since riding Facebook’s communicative power to victory. Zuckerberg had business reasons to help Duterte, and did not let Duterte’s brutality get in the way.
Zuckerberg has hugged Narendra Modi, who has ruled India since 2014 by stirring up Hindu nationalist sentiments and crushing the interests of Muslims. Zuckerberg has never expressed misgivings about that alliance, and Modi, like Duterte, rode Facebook and WhatsApp to victory in his elections.
Facebook placed staff with the 2016 Trump campaign as well, even though Trump made racist statements in his campaign launch speech in 2015 and his administration has proceeded to kidnap children from their parents by the thousands and to brutalize those who seek asylum in the United States. Zuckerberg’s most dangerous political belief is his firm conviction that what’s good for Facebook is good for the world.
At the very moment when the US House of Representatives reveals overwhelming evidence that Trump used his power as president to support his re-election campaign and bolster his friend Vladimir Putin by withholding support from Ukraine, Zuckerberg continues to treat the Trump White House as just another potential regulator who must be charmed.
Democracy is in retreat around the world. Ethnic and racial violence – often state-supported – is on the rise. The social fabric is fraying. Our ability to think clearly about our great problems recedes a bit farther every day. Facebook has played a part in all of that. Yet the company’s leader, who was until recently lauded as a role model for the young, stays out of the fray.
Zuckerberg’s unwillingness to take a stand for basic human decency, his insistence that all politics are merely instrumental to the fortunes of his company, and his belief that he knows best, show him to be political in the most craven ways.
Siva Vaidhyanathan is a professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia and the author of Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy
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