As the United States changes presidents, Facebook Inc. 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 that, well, 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 for 2017 is to make sure that he has visited each of the 50 states by year's end. 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.
"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 Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, created.
Still, Zuckerberg has not said that he is running, or would like to run, for president.
Another reason that Zuckerberg might want to spend the year meeting Americans could have to do with Facebook. During the election cycle, the company was accused of having a bias against conservative news sources and topics in its trending topics bar. That accusation had a lasting effect on Facebook's reputation in conservative circles. And after the November election, the company faced repeated questions from the media about its 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 Facebook users believing that the social networking platform is a newsworthy and trustworthy place where they might feel comfortable posting details of their personal lives. Both perceptions have been threatened over the last 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. But some are more concrete than others. For example, as a Vanity Fair article by Nick Bilton noted, according to a Facebook proxy statement from April, Zuckerberg could leave Facebook to serve in a government office but still keep control of his company. Then again, in a long statement 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. But even if the rumors are true, Bilton wrote, the prevailing thought in Silicon Valley is that Zuckerberg's still completely hypothetical run for office would happen in 2024.
Ohlheiser writes for the Washington Post.