Zuckerberg unfriends potential political ambitions ... for now

Zuckerberg unfriends potential political ambitions ... for now

So much for a cage match between The Rock and Facebook entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg. Who else can we get for Celebrity Thunderdome 2024? Emily Ratajkowski? Zuckerberg quashed speculation over his recent travels through swing-state America, saying he’s more interested in finding ways to connect people together on his platform:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says his quest this year to visit every state he hadn’t before is about building relationships, not politics.

The 33-year-old billionaire wrote in a Facebook post that some users have asked if the trip means he’s running for public office. Zuckerberg says he’s not running for anything. Instead, he says the visits around the country are in order “to get a broader perspective.”

He said Facebook is looking to connect users beyond people they already know, and he wrote that it may be important that the platform connects users to “people you should know.” He describes those as people outside a user’s social circle who he says “provide a new source of support and inspiration.”

Not all trips through Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana are about politics, in other words, although one could be forgiven for having political antennae up over Zuckerberg’s itinerary. As it happens — for now, anyway — Zuckerberg says he’s merely trying to do what the national media largely failed to do last year, which is connect to people in Middle America. He wants to promote Facebook, and try to figure out algorithms that will allow people who don’t know each other at all to connect for their mutual benefit.

And, perhaps, for some other cultural benefits:

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.

It’s an interesting project, even though many on Facebook might be leery of getting nudged to join communities they don’t know. Theoretically, social media platforms should already be exposing people to varying opinions and experiences, thus broadening our horizons. In practice, though, social media platforms have wound up as thought-bubble silos, where like-minded people gather to spend time with each other rather than engaging outward.

Give Zuckerberg credit for recognizing that, even if he’s not explicitly acknowledging that as part of his new project. It’ll be worth watching his experiments to resolve that, and just how resistant his customers will be to expanding their horizons. Based on what we’re seeing from the college campuses where Facebook gets much of its exercise, Zuckerberg has a tall, tall order to fill.

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