Rumors about a run for president won’t go away for Zuckerberg despite previous denials in public. One colleague is not convinced. Zuckerberg will be 36 in 2020, putting him in place to be the youngest president ever if he ran and won. A new post by Eric Johnson, the Podcast producer at Recode had a story recently that raised doubts about a run:
If you pay even a little attention to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, you’ve heard about his yearlong project to travel around the United States, which plenty of armchair observers have claimed is him getting ready to run for political office. Facebook has repeatedly denied this, though not everyone believes it. The political rumor mill started turning again this week when Zuckerberg used Facebook Stories to praise the early-caucus state of Iowa and its pork tenderloin sandwiches…
…He called the idea of Zuckerberg running for president “silly,” saying instead it’s more plausible that the U.S. tour reflects the Facebook CEO’s long-held “ruthless survival instinct.” Hubbard did, however, close with the hashtag #Sheryl2020 — meaning Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who also denies she’s running.
See his full tweetstorm by Zuckerberg friend and Twitter’s former media/commerce boss Nathan Hubbard can be read here. There is even one group raising money to convince Zuckerberg to run:
A newly formed progressive Super PAC named “Disrupt for America” is now accepting donations for their cause: convincing Zuckerberg to run in 2020. “We will have to convince the American people to convince Mark,” a spokesperson for the PAC said in an email, noting that 2020 is still awhile away. And why is the group fixated on Zuckerberg?
“His comments on the topic are measured, sensible, and allow him to retain flexibility. I think most people would (and should) say something very similar in this situation, ” the spokesperson said. ” Having done some preliminary focus group work on this, we are confident that we can overcome any hurdles we might face with respect to the electorate’s perception of Mark as a viable candidate.”
Zuckerberg denied he would run for president in a long statement on Facebook:
My personal challenge this year is to visit every state I haven’t spent time in before to learn about people’s hopes and challenges, and how they’re thinking about their work and communities. After my early trips, people asked me what I was learning but I wanted to be careful not to generalize because every state is so different. I have a lot more to learn, but I’m starting to see some common threads.
My biggest takeaway so far is that our relationships shape us more than we think — how we consider opportunities, how we process information, and how we form habits. There is a lot of discussion about inequality, but one under-looked dimension of inequality is in the makeup of our social networks.
There’s a widely held myth that if people in other places just had better information they’d make better decisions.
I’ve found this is generally wrong and the people I’ve met are rational. Now, it’s true we’re all missing some information that would help us make better decisions no matter where we live. But the people I’ve met have good reasons for the decisions they make based on their experiences and those of their friends and family.
The more fundamental issue seems to be the friends and family we surround ourselves with. This is a powerful force upstream of the information we receive and it determines how we process and factor it into our decisions.
I’ll share three stories about how our relationships affect very different social problems.
First story: I was in Ohio and sat down with recovering heroin addicts. They told me the first step in fighting addiction is to detox, but the second is to get completely new friends. If you stay friends with the people you were using with — or even with people who are using on their own — you’re almost guaranteed to relapse. It’s tough when those people are your close friends and even tougher when they’re your family, but building new relationships is the most important predictor of staying clean.
This isn’t a matter of information. These recovering addicts all know heroin is bad for them and they know they shouldn’t use it. But the people around you are a much stronger influence than information. So to move forward, we need to operate on the level of helping people build better relationships, not just getting them information.
Second story: I was in Indiana at a juvenile justice center. Some of the kids had committed serious crimes like murder or robbery, but others had just misbehaved in class. The most striking fact is that those kids are more likely to become criminals after going through detention than they were before they went in. The correctional system is building a negative and self-reinforcing social network.
Similar to the first story, these kids know crime is bad and they don’t want to go to prison. But we all model our behavior on people around us. If we want to help them, we should help these kids build positive relationships with role models.
Third story: This one is about economic upward mobility. When I was driving through some depressed areas in the south, I was struck by how few people move to seek better opportunities elsewhere. It turns out there’s good research showing how a lot of economic inequality comes from our lack of willingness or ability to move geographically. (See Raj Chetty’s work here: equality-of-opportunity.org/neighborhoods)
From my conversations, a lot of people’s decisions about whether to move depend on their friends and family in a couple of ways. First, if you grow up in a place where all your friends and family move away for college or to seek a job, then that sets an example for you. The reverse is also true, and if all your friends and family stay home, that sets a norm too. Second, and perhaps stronger, if all your friends and family move away for opportunities, there is less reason to stay where you grew up. On the other hand, if all your friends and family stay in the same place, there is a strong pull back home.
I’ve heard lots of stories of people who went away to college, but when they had kids they needed help, and since childcare is so expensive, they moved back home to be closer to their family. Coming home has great advantages, but if you don’t have a diversity of friends and family who can expose you to different things, that may limit your ability to find opportunity.
I’ve seen lots of more stories like the three above that point to your friends and family as the most powerful force in shaping your path, including positive ones.
In Detroit, I met community leaders who turned an abandoned building into a safe place where kids can hang out after school. The founder told me: “We want kids to be able to think again, and that comes from seeing men and women who care about what they do. We’ve got whole neighborhoods of kids just waiting for someone to give them a sense of purpose.”
This isn’t a scientific study and it requires further research, but I think there’s something to this idea that your relationships shape your path more than we realize.
I also think this is an area where Facebook can make a difference. Some of you have asked if this challenge means I’m running for public office. I’m not. I’m doing it to get a broader perspective to make sure we’re best serving our community of almost 2 billion people at Facebook and doing the best work to promote equal opportunity at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
In many ways, relationships are the most important things in our lives — whether we’re trying to form healthy habits, stay out of trouble, or find better opportunities. And yet, research shows the average American has fewer than three close friends we can turn to for support.
Facebook has been focused on helping you connect with people you already know. We’ve built AI systems to recommend “People You May Know”. But it might be just as important to also connect you with people you should know — mentors and people outside your circle who care about you and can provide a new source of support and inspiration.
There are a number of models for how this might work. The Peace Corps creates service opportunities where people exchange culture and build new relationships. Perhaps we could build a new digital peace corps. Another model is Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, where people who have struggled with these challenges and overcome them go on to become mentors for others, with the hope of training them to one day become mentors themselves. This is something I’ve only recently started studying and working with our teams at Facebook to build.
One thing I’ve been inspired by is that if we can just help a few percent of people, that can make a huge positive impact on our society overall. On the unfortunate side, even though only a few percent of people are addicted to opioids, we all know someone affected by this. But that also means that if we can just help a few percent of people build new positive relationships, that will affect all of us as well. That gives me hope that we can do this.
My hope is that we can help more people build positive relationships with people who expand their sense of possibility. I believe that if we do this, we will make progress on a lot of our greatest opportunities and challenges.
I hope a lot of you have challenged yourselves to get out and learn from other perspectives this year too. I’d love to hear your stories and reflections as well