As America changes presidents, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is doing something. This week, he did something in Texas: He went to his first rodeo. He wore a hard hat and a safety vest. He thanked police officers in Dallas for their hard work. He helped plant a community garden. So what, exactly, is Mark Zuckerberg doing? Well, even without a peep from the man confirming any interest in the job, some have started to believe that Zuckerberg is running for president.
The reason people think that is, well, because whatever it is that Zuckerberg is doing looks a lot like what presidential hopefuls do:
In this case, Zuckerberg was in Dallas to testify in a $2 billion lawsuit. The Facebook-owned Oculus VR company has been accused of corporate theft by ZeniMax — an accusation that Facebook has denied. But the chief executive managed to make the most of his trip on Facebook itself by looping it into an unrelated personal project.
Zuckerberg’s New Year’s resolution this year is to make sure that he has visited each of the 50 U.S. states by the end of the year. He has been to several already, (for instance: Hawaii, where he owns a house and is suing some of his neighbors), so the resolution will mean making sure he visits about 30 additional states by December. “My work is about connecting the world and giving everyone a voice. I want to personally hear more of those voices this year,” Zuckerberg wrote in his Facebook post explaining the resolution.
But that resolution wasn’t the first thing Zuckerberg that sounded a bit presidential to some. Over the holidays, Zuckerberg said he no longer considers himself an atheist and that religion is “very important” to him. He also hired David Plouffe, President Obama’s former campaign chair, to work for the philanthropic organization that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, created.
Once again, it is important to emphasize that while the above sure does make you go “hmm,” Mark Zuckerberg has not said that he is running, or would like to run, for president.
One other reason that Zuckerberg might want to spend 2017 meeting Americans could have to do with, you know, Facebook. This year, the company was accused of having a bias against conservative news sources and topics in its trending topics bar. That accusation had a lasting impact on Facebook’s reputation in conservative circles. And after the 2016 election, the company faced repeated interrogations from the media about its influential role in spreading fake news and hoaxes. As a result, Facebook announced changes designed to improve its ability to discourage the sharing of outright false information.
Zuckerberg’s business model depends on its users believing that the platform is a newsworthy and trustworthy place where they might feel comfortable posting lots of things from their personal lives. Both perceptions have been threatened over the past year. Going out and talking to people, particularly those who have recently lost trust in the company, could be helpful PR for Zuckerberg — for reasons that have nothing to do with running for president.
With someone like Zuckerberg, it can be hard to separate signs of insatiable ambition from those pointing to a specific political goal. Take this passage from Nick Bilton, who outlined the case for at least thinking about the possibility that Zuckerberg might run over at Vanity Fair:
If he does want the job, Zuckerberg definitely has the personality for it. When Facebook went public in 2012, I co-authored a profile of the young C.E.O. During the reporting, I heard from several friends about his penchant for playing world-conquering board and video games. Early childhood pals told me that one of Zuckerberg’s favorite video games as a boy was Civilization, the game in which you have to “build an empire to stand the test of time.” Others have told me that, to this day, Zuckerberg loves to play Risk, a strategy board game where you have to essentially take over the world.
Interesting. Except, my dudes, I too really love playing Civilization, and I would never want to run for president. Other things pointed to in that Vanity Fair story are more concrete — like the fact that a Facebook proxy statement from April said Zuckerberg could leave Facebook to serve in a government office but still keep control of his company. Hmm. (In a long statement about those changes in April, Zuckerberg said he was “committed to our mission and to leading Facebook there over the long term.”)
Zuckerberg would be 36 by the time the 2020 election rolls around, which is one year over the minimum required age to be president (by contrast, incumbent President Donald Trump would be 74). But even if the rumors of a Zuckerberg run are true — which, again, is not something that has been confirmed in any way — Bilton says that the prevailing thought in Silicon Valley is that the still completely hypothetical Zuckerberg run for office would happen in 2024.