Those of us who aren’t still lamenting the results of the 2016 election are looking ahead to 2020. Anyone who thinks the current regime is bad had better hold on to their pearls, because things are about to get much worse. Mark Zuckerberg, the world’s richest sociopath, a man who made his fortune selling out people's pro-social impulses and friendships to advertisers and the national security state, is preparing to take the reins of power of US empire. This would be disastrous for the already-embattled concepts of free speech, privacy, and democracy.
Two years ago, there was no reason to think that Zuckerberg would go into politics. Why would he? He’s already got billions of dollars, runs one of the most successful companies in Silicon Valley, boasts a cozy relationship with the US government and owns fortified properties all over the world. What does he need more power for?
Last year, Zuckerberg announced he’d had a religious conversion: he believes in God now. Theism is an unwritten prerequisite for public office in America. While on paper we separate church and state, the majority of Americans still identify as Christians, and polls have revealed that most of us wouldn’t vote for a candidate that didn’t believe in some sort of Judeo-Christian deity. While his family is Jewish, Zuckerberg cannily realized he could go further with a vague, nonspecific Christianity - Jews are used to voting for non-Jewish candidates, but evangelical Christians would be unlikely to elect a Jew. There is no other explanation for his religious “revelation” - raking in billions of dollars a year has never once caused a person to find god. But political expediency is a powerful religious motivator.
Zuckerberg recently inserted a clause into Facebook’s charter that allows him to retain control of the company should he take a leave of absence to serve in government. He also hired David Plouffe, the campaign manager who brought Obama to victory in 2008, ostensibly to help run Zuckerberg's philanthropy. Even more bizarrely for someone who clearly loathes humanity, he spent several months during the summer traveling the country to meet "ordinary" Americans. It is telling that people at the locations of his visits were only informed an hour ahead of time of his arrival, for security reasons. In addition to bodyguards, his private jet was packed with a retinue of photographers, who meticulously documented every handshake and shared meal in Facebook posts so he could milk every last drop of public relations benefit out of these interactions. Readers of his feed were treated to heartfelt musings on the everyday obstacles faced by the salt-of-the-earth folks he encountered at rehab facilities, farms, factories, and small businesses - the same genre of bullshit we are treated to every election cycle by smarmy politicians trying to convince voters they Feel Their Pain.
In his 2016 Harvard commencement speech, Zuckerberg declared his support for universal basic income, a measure that has the potential to overcome the loathing all sane people feel when they see his smug face on their screens. As Americans are plunged deeper into poverty and jobs become fewer and further between with the rise of automation, universal basic income starts to look like our only chance for survival. Those who would vote for Zuckerberg because of this must realize his version of universal basic income looks nothing like their hopes for salvation. One condition will almost certainly be the demise of cash - this income will be distributed in a medium that irreversibly links it to one’s national ID and by extension Facebook profile. Like other government benefits - food stamps, subsidized housing - it will only be usable to pay for certain approved items or categories of items. Think of the restrictions in place on use of Facebook - the activities that get one temporarily banned, silenced or booted from the site altogether - and the laundry list of conditions placed on welfare recipients (criminal convictions, drug tests, and so on) and understand that every single one of these transgressions and more we haven’t even thought of yet will also block one from receiving that income, creating a permanent underclass of sub-subsistence individuals forced to live outside the system. Given that one percent of America's population is currently incarcerated, that underclass will be immense.
Zuckerberg’s smug sociopathy shone brightly when he strolled with sneering nonchalance down the aisle of a theater packed with VR-headset-wearing pod people. But it is his dystopian view of privacy that should really terrify anyone contemplating a Zuckerberg presidency. A Facebook administration would make the Bush boys and their Patriot Act look like amateur hour. Zuckerberg has come out as a vocal opponent of anonymity, even going so far as to state that he would like Facebook to act as an “internet driver’s license” - an identity marker that follows the user around non-Facebook sites and logs his behavior, and a technology already implemented to some extent in any site you visit that allows users to “like” or “share” posts. The US government is already developing its own “online drivers’ license,” called the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. Launched in 2011, the program seeks to partner with private-sector technology companies to offer users “trusted” online identity credentials for use across the internet. The program’s apologists tout its convenience and security while glossing over the new frontiers in identity theft it would open, to say nothing of the information bonanza for the national security state. Adoption would, of course, be optional - just like having a social security number is optional now. With Zuckerberg at the helm of the program, Facebook would no doubt replace NSTIC’s wishy-washy “competing private and public sector” options with its own.
Facebook’s “real name policy” has grown much stricter since the site’s inception, forcing activists and other dissidents to either provide a government ID or leave the network and forfeit the profile and connections they’ve built up over the years. The site claims the policy exists to protect users, as if anonymity is not in and of itself protective. Zuckerberg justifies Facebook’s abysmal record of privacy violations by claiming that “social norms” have evolved toward a devaluation of privacy, and that Facebook is merely reflecting the prevailing zeitgeist - then says that it was Facebook itself that got users “through this really big hurdle” of making their information public, and that he hopes the site will continue pushing users toward disclosing more information. According to Zuckerberg, users shouldn’t post what they don’t want the rest of the world to see. In other words, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. Sound familiar? If these are the views he expresses openly, one can only shudder to imagine what he doesn’t make public. Oh, right, we don’t need to imagine - we have an actual IM exchange from the early days of Facebook in which he called users “dumb fucks” for trusting him with their personal info.
There’s a reason Zuckerberg’s rhetoric on privacy echoes that of the NSA and other government agencies. Facebook has worked hand in hand with the NSA as part of the PRISM program revealed by Edward Snowden since 2009. PRISM allowed the NSA direct access to data on Facebook’s servers, as well as those of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, Youtube, Skype and Apple. Zuckerberg and Google’s Eric Schmidt tacitly admitted their knowledge of the program when they both issued the same statement denying that knowledge after Snowden’s revelations were published. The NSA has claimed it only collects foreign data approved by FISA courts, but analysts admit that American data is often swept up as well; given that those courts operate secretly, and that PRISM essentially provided blanket authorization to circumvent the need for individual FISA warrants, it is safe to assume PRISM has been hoovering up all our data, foreign and domestic, since the program launched with surveillance of Microsoft in 2007. When PRISM became public knowledge, Facebook and Google were in the process of creating secure portals for the NSA to more easily access their data, and anyone who thinks the agency stopped collecting that data after the leak doesn’t understand how the national security state operates. Far from sparking a public uprising or even a change in policy, the Snowden revelations largely sank without a trace as Americans collectively shrugged, said “that’s life,” and gave up any hope of privacy. A perfunctory denial from Zuckerberg and we settled back into our comfortable routine of spoon-feeding our data to the national security behemoth.
The mainstream US media point to the Chinese government’s censorship of Facebook as evidence of its authoritarianism (because a free country would have no problem allowing CIA-backed software into the homes of its citizens to harvest data for the US national security state unhampered by regulations or protective measures). They forget that the Chinese government had good reason to ban the social networking site when it did so in 2009. Facebook has been notoriously selective in cracking down on “resistance” movements on behalf of governments around the world. They regularly come to the aid of US police departments and government agencies in targeting dissidents and other inconvenient users - to say nothing of the aforementioned “real name policy” which flags activists while leaving regular citizens who use aliases alone. More recently, they blocked Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar from posting about the brutal military campaign against them, which UN officials have called ethnic cleansing. In China, however, during the 2009 Ürümqi riots, the site refused to comply with government requests to hand over the information of Xinjiang independence activists who had been using it to communicate. Facebook has remained blocked ever since. There is no doubt China’s internet censorship is a powerful tool of an authoritarian government, but Facebook’s own behavior toward activists is hypocritical in the extreme.
Zuckerberg has been essentially fellating China ever since in an attempt to regain entry into the country’s lucrative market, but they have stood fast in their refusal. His obsequiousness has made him something of a punchline among Chinese internet users - he actually asked Xi Jinping (in Mandarin, of course) to give his then-unborn child a Chinese name. More disturbing has been Zuckerberg’s eagerness to implement China-compliant censorship in the social network, on this side of the ocean as well. Posts that don’t fit mainstream media narratives are likely to fall into Facebook’s memory hole, more so now than ever in the wake of the “Russian meddling” revelations. The site has for years come under criticism for censoring and influencing users’ newsfeeds, promoting establishment-friendly political content while suppressing alternative viewpoints and psychologically manipulating users in ways that make them more susceptible to loneliness and instability. It’s a truly genius marketing scheme - a user who believes Facebook is their only friend is less likely to turn off the social network and go hang out with their real friends. As more and more people consume their news primarily through social media, the censorious tendencies of the Facebook algorithm become a bigger problem. Trust in the US media is at an all-time low, but many Americans don’t lump Facebook in with that media, believing they are receiving unfiltered content from their “friends” whom they do trust.
Are there roadblocks to a Zuckerberg presidency? Sure, but nothing $70 billion (and climbing) in personal assets won’t fix. He was briefly in trouble when it came out that a Russian company called Internet Research Agency bought $100,000 worth of ads on Facebook, supposedly to influence the 2016 election (whether this was before or after Russia “hacked” said election is not mentioned - the media seems to be hoping that particular preposterous allegation will quietly go away). A total of 3,000 ads on various issues, linked to 470 fake accounts now shut down, would represent literally the first morsel suggesting the year-long “Russian meddling” hysteria has any parallels with reality, even though the ads did not mention candidates’ names and thus are not covered by the law prohibiting foreign governments and citizens from spending money to influence American elections (and buying ads does not even approach the level of meddling the US perpetrates during other countries’ elections, and Internet Research Agency is not the Russian government). Zuckerberg, for his part, said after Trump’s win that the idea that “fake news” swayed voters was “pretty crazy” and that “both candidates were very unpopular” - a case of a broken clock being right twice a day, but anathema to the greater media narrative. He has since revised his stance, vowing to hire 1,000 new employees to review ads before they are posted and asking for “forgiveness.” Case closed!
(Not) paying taxes has sunk many a lesser man than Zuckerberg, and Facebook may owe as much as $5 billion to the IRS after undervaluing its assets as part of a popular tax dodge called the “Double Irish,” but there has been no action on the matter a year after the two parties went to court and it seems likely this will go away as well. Worse, “Facebook vs. the IRS” could be framed as a stand against government overreach, a David and Goliath narrative strengthening Zuckerberg’s admittedly nonexistent connection to the Tea Party crowd. Never mind that Facebook will have more money than the IRS by 2020 if it doesn't already.
Adding insult to the injuries of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, Zuckerberg recently released a demonstration of Facebook’s virtual-reality function showing an avatar of himself touring the devastated island; rather than use the opportunity to call attention to the urgent needs of Puerto Ricans, he merely extolled the virtues of the new function. One could argue this was the purpose of the video, but in that case why set it in Puerto Rico at all? Why engage in disaster-porn voyeurism when he could project his misshapen little avatar literally anywhere else?
Humans are creatures of habit, and social media is no exception to this rule. But if we want to live as free beings, we need to break the Facebook habit. Every Facebook user knows by now that the network sells users’ information to advertisers, and more people are learning every day about the central role the CIA played in making the site the behemoth it is today, yet people persist in using Facebook because that’s where their friends are. It is time to change that. We need a mass migration to another platform, one not controlled by a megalomaniac living out his revenge-of-the-nerds fantasy at our expense.
There are plenty of alternate social media sites, some of which allow you to transfer your entire profile from Facebook with one click. I have an account on minds.com and am building profiles at steemit.com, joindiaspora.com and gab.ai. Other suggestions welcomed. I propose a mass migration to another platform - ANY platform, though I’d like to hear suggestions as to which non-Facebook, non-Twitter platform people prefer.