Mark Zuckerberg is up to something and it’s creeping the hell out of me. I get it, he’s an interesting guy, so perhaps the social media titan’s new years resolution to meet people in all 50 of America’s states is nothing remotely nefarious. Then again, I’m hardly convinced. In late April, the Facebook CEO decided to pay a visit to a Trump-voting family in the crucial swing state of Ohio, a move which has pre-election canvassing written all over it.
And oh, would you look at that! Zuckerburg no longer considers himself an Athiest. Now, again, perhaps I’m reading far too much into this but… Godamn isn’t this all just so convenient. Being non-religious has long been and remains one of the greatest impediments to attaining elected office in the United States, so do forgive me for drawing doubt over the 33-year-old billionaire’s newfound faith.
If going around meeting working-class Americans while making himself more electable isn’t enough, last year Facebook found itself hit by a lawsuit after plans to amend its stock structure would have granted Zuckerburg far greater control of the company. That was last April. In December, unsealed court filings revealed that Zuckerberg and two board members had discussed the prospect of a political career while at the same time as retaining his position as founder and CEO. According to The Guardian, Marc Andreessen, the 45-year-old investor, texted him in March 2016 to say that the “Biggest issue” of the proposal was “How to define the gov’t service thing without freaking out shareholders.”
Ok, so, Mark Zuckerburg, the 33-year-old with a net worth of over 60 billion US dollars is potentially planning a political run while also remaining in control of a social media network which is used by over 50% of Americans every single day. Now, if that doesn’t immediately terrify you, please understand that Zuckerburg possesses the two most crucial resources for any wannabe US President: Money and data, and more than anyone else who’s ever even considered that position.
There’s already a reason why the vast majority of political advertising is on Facebook. Elections are becoming more and more about big data and no other network has anywhere near as many users and anywhere near as much information on those users than Zuckerburg’s does. Given enough cash, current political campaigns can already use the site to advertise to very specific types of people living in very specific places – For example, single 18-24-year-old female renters living in Cleveland, Ohio. However, just imagine the kind of targeting and manipulation that is possible if said campaign has access to the back door?
In 2012, Facebook successfully conducted a massive study in which it was able to change individual people’s emotions by manipulating the order of posts on their home page. By editing the traffic of information supplied to its users, the company was literally able to change the way they think – and that was five years ago. Now, Facebook has two billion users – an even more impressive figure when you consider the fact that it’s still blocked in China. Now, not only do 50% of Americans use the service every day but it now also constitutes their primary source of news. It is certainly no exaggeration to assume that such technology can be used to manipulate public opinion on a terrifying scale, whether it is to sell a product, spark a revolution, or get its CEO elected as the most powerful person on Earth.
The Tory Stealth Campaign
It is now a well-known meme in politically aware circles that the Conservative Party is running what appears to be the most boring and stage-managed campaign in all of British history. Theresa May, like Catherine the Great on her visit to Crimea, is currently being ferried around the country to speak to small crowds of Tory Party activists where she will deliver the same repetitive sound bytes for twenty minutes before being bundled back into her car and sped along to the next empty shed or car park or whatever.
Obviously, that’s quite easy to make fun of, just as easy as it is to mock the repetitive focus group-tested phrases which Lynton Crosby has ordered Conservative politicians to utter every other sentence (“Strong and stable/ coalition of chaos/ strengthen my hand…”). However, I feel like it should be worth reminding everyone that you (a politically savvy individual who browses Twitter, watches Newsnight and has already made their mind up) are not the target audience. Most people aren’t sad little nerds like us, instead, as Jim Messina likes to say, they only think about politics for approximately four minutes every week. According to YouGov, most of the British public still don’t even recognise the “Strong and stable” line, much less Labour’s “For the many, not the few,” so don’t expect to stop hearing it anytime soon.
As for hiding away from voters, well, that’s probably the future. For your candidate to actually show up to a rally and meet “Real” people might be very noble, but it’s terrifically inefficient. I mean, what’s the profit? How many people can you actually fit in a half-empty car park, and how many of them are undecided voters as opposed to committed party loyalists? How many working mothers will take the time out of their day to stand in the cold and listen to a speech by some posh twat from Sussex?
On the other hand, think about the dangers. “Real” people are unpredictable. They might even walk up to your guy or gal and ask them a super awkward question or shout about how their husband had to wait seven hours in the A&E. Nah, it’s clearly much safer to prepare snippets of focus-tested propaganda and target it at where undecided voters actually hang out (Music Radio, Ten O’clock News, Facebook, Papers etc).
Emmanuel & Brigitte
So France has itself a new President, one whom I actually rather like. Macron is like a Liberal Donald Trump – in the sense that he’s a long-time member of his nation’s respective elite who’s somehow managed to win an election on the premise of being a maverick outsider.
Anyway, one rather curious aspect of Macron’s campaign was the public fascination, both within France and beyond, to the fact that he’s married to his former school teacher, Brigitte, a woman 24 his senior. Basically, anyone with an axe to grind against both Macron and the “Evil Globalist Liberal Establishment” he apparently represents has used the fact to smear the new French President as really really weird, while also claiming that he’d get on his knees before the 62-year-old Merkel.
Now, look, I’m usually the kind of person to roll my eyes when people go on about sexism and Western political discourse but, well, come on. Let’s imagine for a moment that it was Emmanuel who was 24 years older than his wife. Would anyone care? No, of course, they wouldn’t. As a society, we’ve long ago come to accept that anyone from Tom Cruise to Rupert Murdock to some sweaty Russian Oligarch can happily marry a woman born over two decades before them. But oh! What’s this? A young, good looking politician I don’t like has a significantly older partner? Well… Then he must be gay, or perhaps is having an affair with his thirty-something step-daughter. No, honestly, shove it.