Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., gestures as he speaks during a session at the Techonomy 2016 conference in Half Moon Bay, California, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016.
“No,” Zuckerberg wrote in response to a question about his intent to run. “I’m focused on building our community at Facebook and working on the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative,” referring to the limited-liability corporation he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, founded in 2015 to advance human potential and promoting equality through major bets in education and science research. Zuckerberg did not immediately respond to follow-up questions about whether he’d explicitly ruled out a run.
Zuckerberg’s response comes after weeks of speculation from the tech press and beyond, set off by a series of events that indicated a run might be in the cards, including a pledge to visit the approximately 30 US states he hadn’t yet been to. “Will Mark Zuckerberg Be Our Next President?” Vanity Fair asked in January.
The clues were there. Zuckerberg, who had previously been described as an atheist, said over the holidays that he believes religion is important. He’s touring the US asking “folks” about how they live. He hired a former White House photographer to take his Facebook pics. He included a clause about potentially serving for office into Facebook’s stock restructuring deal, and he hired a former presidential campaign manager to help his quasi-charitable works. But as Zuckerberg indicated Tuesday, he’s more interested in wielding influence from Menlo Park than Washington, DC. A source close to Zuckerberg told BuzzFeed News the 32-year-old CEO has privately denied it as well.
“There’s absolutely no truth to the idea that Mark is running for office and I’ve heard it directly from him,” the source told BuzzFeed News. “Here’s the thing: For Mark, Facebook is global community that already plays this huge part in the lives of billions of people around the world and plays an incredibly important role in shaping the base on the issues that matter.”
Zuckerberg is preparing for a political battle, the source was careful to emphasize, but as a private citizen focused on the goals he has already outlined through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. “There is absolutely a possibility that Mark may choose to play a stronger role in the political system and political debates,” the source said. Zuckerberg has been “very transparent” in his advocacy for “greater equality and optimizing research that find cures for disease and solves the fundamental problems of our time, but I really don’t see him stepping away from Facebook.”
Last week, Zuckerberg announced that he had poached Uber executive David Plouffe, a former campaign manager for Barack Obama, as CZI’s president of policy and advocacy. He also tapped Ken Mehlman, George W. Bush’s former campaign manager, in an advisory role. “You can make change, but in order for it to be sustainable, you need to build a movement to support it,” Zuckerberg told The New York Times.
Calling for a movement, backed by bipartisan political operatives, sounds awfully presidential, but Zuckerberg used the same language when he first launched CZI in December, 2015.
The stock restructuring deal ties back to CZI as well. The changes were made after Zuckerberg and Chan donated 99 percent of their Facebook shares, then worth roughly $45 billion, to CZI. In order retain control while he gave away equity, Zuckerberg introduced a new class of stock and revised rules, including a concession that “serving in a government position or office,” for two years would not constitute a voluntary resignation.
Success in business doesn’t necessarily guarantee success at the polls. . “First thing is these people should not be running for office,” Bradley Tusk, an Uber advisor and investor, who also managed Michael Bloomberg’s 2009 mayoral campaign, told BuzzFeed Newsduring a conversation about the increasingly political role played by Silicon Valley leaders. “It worked for Mike [Bloomberg] because of 9/11. If you look at the history of rich people from business or tech running for office, they almost always lose. That personality type is very different from running a company. The reality is if you’re Mark, with your wealth and platform,” you’re better off as CEO of Facebook than President, he said.
Tusk also pointed out that direct political engagement has not been as successful for Zuckerberg in the past. “Look at Fwd.us. How much money did those guys get taken for? And they accomplished nothing,” he said, referring to Zuckerberg’s ill-conceived immigration advocacy group. “They are better off using their strengths and their skills,” than jumping directly into the political arena, Tusk said.