As the Trump administration draws to the end of its eighth month, it’s easy to start speculating about a possible Democratic resurgence in 2020. The only issue with this endeavour is the dearth of appealing candidates the party is able to offer. Senators Sanders and Warren, 75 and 68 respectively, are arguably past their campaigning prime, whilst younger colleagues Kamala Harris and Cory Booker have come to epitomise the kind of empty centrism that Trump’s ardour so quickly rendered impotent back in 2016. In the age of the businessman-cum-politician however, one name stands out, his moderacy tempered by his outsider status: Mark Zuckerberg.
The 33 year old, whose 71 billion dollar fortune is sure to antagonise a thin-skinned incumbent, seems increasingly likely to throw his hat into the 2020 presidential election. Despite his lack of involvement in politics, Zuckerberg’s recent public image has begun to resemble that of a politician more than a businessman.
In May, delivering a Harvard commencement address, he showcased a sharpened set of oratory skills, outlining a vision for a society unhampered by inequality of opportunity. A prolific user of his own social platform, the Facebook CEO has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s rescindment of the DACA program, which protects the rights of the children of undocumented immigrants. In a less overt indication of his intentions, Zuckerberg has hired several renowned Democratic pollsters and advisors, including David Plouffe, who managed Obama’s successful 2008 campaign, and, in a telling tribute to the obfuscation that pervades American politics, he’s even denied any intention of running for public office.
But beneath the routine preparations undertaken by the potential candidate, it’s difficult to ignore the somewhat more Machiavellian undertones that pervade Zuck’s emergence into the political sphere.
Last year, Facebook reinvented its stock structure, with specific amendments to the conditions under which its CEO would be forced to relinquish executive power. Under new guidelines, Zuckerberg would be able to retain control over the company whilst “serving in a government position or office”. Since January, his personal account — endowed with 96 million followers, more than Obama and Trump combined — has been immune to the ‘block’ feature. The button remains, but the function is disabled, an immunity also granted to his wife, Priscilla Chan. Facebook has alleged that this is simply a reflection of its community guidelines, but the excuse is weak — the Zuckerberg family are two of the only profiles on the website with this privilege.
Paired with the previous revelation, it’s hard to suppress the shades of Orwell which are already becoming increasingly intertwined with social media. Consider for a moment, the implications of a Trump vs Zuckerberg race. It’s no secret that the current President is the face of Twitter, with some analysts estimating that his presence is worth $2.5 billion to the social media giant. A race between Trump and Zuckerberg is no longer just a contest for the most powerful office on Earth, but a contest for control over the medium through which its incumbent is portrayed.
Revelations regarding the use of promoted Facebook articles by Russian ‘troll factories’ to influence the 2016 election have set the tone for 2020, and indeed the midterms in 2018. Social media is no longer simply a means to relate information, it’s an instrument to control the narrative. As democracy writhes under the weight of our apathy, let the prospect of President Zuckerberg be a reminder — the distinction between dystopia and reality relies on our ability to wrest control back.