Perhaps the most famous business executive in the world, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, could be preparing to dip his toes into the political world. He's outlined a plan to have visited every U.S. state by the end of 2017, an idea that "hints at political ambitions," wrote the Guardian Tuesday.
Zuckerberg sets some lofty self-fulfillment every year. Last year he built an artificial intelligence tool for his own; this year it's a tour of the states. In language reminiscent of a politician who's shaking hands and kissing babies, the CEO said he wanted to get to know America better through trips to the about 30 states he has still not visited.
"After a tumultuous last year, my hope for this challenge is to get out and talk to more people about how they're living, working and thinking about the future," Zuckerberg wrote in (what else) a Facebook post.
"Going into this challenge, it seems we are at a turning point in history," he added. "For decades, technology and globalization have made us more productive and connected. This has created many benefits, but for a lot of people it has also made life more challenging. This has contributed to a greater sense of division than I have felt in my lifetime. We need to find a way to change the game so it works for everyone."
Of course, this entire trip could be aimed at improving Facebook and better understanding its place in the world, with nearly 1.8 billion users. It could be a useful exercise after a year in which the social media site was plagued with a fake news scandal, which many believe helped shape Republican Donald Trump's win in the presidential election. That has, of course, further thrust Zuckerberg into the political area, despite his typically neutral public political statements.
"Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way — I think is a pretty crazy idea," he said after the election in comments even some of his own employees disagreed with.
But even before the shocking upset win for Trump, Zuckerberg had privately considered entering the political fray. Documents unsealed in December from an April lawsuit showed exchanges between the CEO and board members about a possible political future. Zuckerberg wondered how he could balance government service and still keep control over Facebook.
Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, a Facebook investor, texted Zuckerberg telling him that the "biggest issue" of the corporate proposal was "how to define the gov’t service thing without freaking out shareholders that you are losing commitment." The board eventually approved a clause that would allow him to retain control of the company if he took a leave of absence to serve in a government position.
Zuckerberg has also backed away from previous claims of atheism, a major hurdle for politicians, and previously launched an immigration reform lobby group in 2013, the Guardian noted. There's groundwork there. Meeting more American people is, "the latest in a string of moves that indicate Zuckerberg’s intention to pursue government service," wrote journalist Olivia Solon in the piece. Recent speculation has even included the prospect of a presidential run.
There is, of course, precedent for business leaders entering the political realm. President-elect Donald Trump had no political experience and was elected to the nation's highest office. Billionaire Michael Bloomberg was elected mayor of New York City. Perhaps Zuckerberg will be next, Vanity Fair also argued Wednesday. "A 30-state listening tour—shaking hands, kissing babies—sure sounds political," it wrote.