Why Is Pete Buttigieg the Facebook Candidate?

Screenshot: Mark Zuckerberg

Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign is Silicon Valley’s latest breakout startup, according to this news cycle’s various descriptions by entrepreneurs who gush about his “new life and new energy,” his “A-player” spirit, his stirring speaking skills, and his youth. And possibly also his Ivy League network and centrist turn which differentiates him from candidates like Elizabeth Warren, whose proposal to break up big tech would totally suck for Facebook.

We know that Mark Zuckerberg and Pete Buttigieg are “friends,” at least from Zuckerberg’s unsettling post-2016 election humanizing live-streamed national tour to meet everyday humans, in which Zuckerberg referred to Buttigieg as: “my friend.” (Buttigieg was verifiably friends with two of Zuckerberg’s roommates at Harvard at Facebook’s 287th adopter, though Zuckerberg told CBS that they were introduced a few years ago by “mutual college friends.”) Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan recommended several candidates for campaign staffers to Pete Buttigieg’s campaign manager, two of whom were hired, and one of whom had worked at Facebook for four years. While a campaign spokesperson told CBS the recommendations were “unsolicited,” they rose to the top of the pile of 7,000 resumes.

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Mayor Pete’s campaign was quick to point out that Zuckerberg was among a number of advisors; Senior Communications Advisor for the Buttigieg campaign Lis Smith tweeted that the group includes “former presidents, civil rights leaders, members of Congress, and Pete’s high school teacher.”

But Mark Zuckerberg is not Pete’s high school teacher.

“Why would Buttigieg accept help from Zuck? It may not be illegal, but after 2016, he had to know that it was not appropriate,” Roger McNamee, early Facebook investor and author of Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe, wrote in an email. In his book, McNamee advocates for regulations stronger than the middling ones we have and which Silicon Valley has embraced. “The best way for tech to avoid heavy regulation,” he wrote, “is for the industry leaders to embrace light regulation and make appropriate changes to their business practices.”

Zuck is a CEO who would very much appreciate it if his company stays intact, and Buttigieg seems likely to spare him Congressional hearings which he’s called an “embarrassing spectacle” performed by lawmakers who “have no idea what they’re even asking about.” Buttigieg has written aspirationally in his book about hopes of bringing the “Silicon Prairie” to Indiana, and earlier this year, his campaign manager characterized the campaign to the AP as “a little disruptive, kind of entrepreneurial.” Buttigieg’s stated policy is to empower the FTC to regulate tech companies, up to preventing and reversing mergers (for, say, companies like Facebook that eat smaller companies and shits out their features). In March, he told Local News 4 WHBF in March that “we need to protect individual data rights.”

“And frankly, I think if we get it right,” he said, “the tech sector should appreciate that we’ve resolved that problem as a people so that they’re not supposed to figure it out one-by-one.”

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But Facebook does not “appreciate” regulation; its policy is to move fast and break things until users sue for publicizing their purchases to their friends, or until the FTC charges Facebook for indiscriminately offering users’ data to third-party apps, or until virtually every governing body investigates or a major outlet publishes an exposé. At which point Facebook says they made a bunch of mistakes and learned a great deal or else that they didn’t realize the extent of privacy abuses (or oops actually they did know) and pay the fine. (Lawmakers have put forth a bill that would put executives who lie to the FTC in prison.) Facebook is currently “committed to working with regulatorsto avoid destabilizing the global financial system.

In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo that “Mark and Priscilla have not decided who to support for President.” Presumably this would displease the far-right goons Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson, whom he has wined and dined. Endorsing a campaign would also look bad at a time when his platform is under fire for openly taking money from candidates to spread false information in ads. It could be considered an unwise move for Zuck to interject with some help in a political race at a moment when he’s scheduled to testify before Congress on just one of the many issues that lawmakers are scrutinizing regarding the future of his company.

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Or maybe this is just another way for Zuck to signal that at his core he has no ideology and helping out his Ivy League bud is just him offering a bit of his signature conciliatory goat meat to Democrats.

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About the author

Whitney Kimball

Staff reporter, Gizmodo. wkimball @ gizmodo