Mark Zuckerberg has given more weight to the idea that he could move into politics with the announcement of a statesmanly personal challenge for 2017.
In previous years the Facebook CEO has learned Mandarin, pledged to run at least a mile each day and built a virtual assistant called Jarvis to control his home. This year he wants to have visited and met people in every state in the US. He’s already visited about 20 states, which means he has to travel to about 30 states by the end of the year.
“After a tumultuous last year, my hope for this challenge is to get out and talk to more people about how they’re living, working and thinking about the future,” he said in a Facebook post announcing the challenge.
“For decades, technology and globalization have made us more productive and connected. This has created many benefits, but for a lot of people it has also made life more challenging. This has contributed to a greater sense of division than I have felt in my lifetime. We need to find a way to change the game so it works for everyone.”
He said that his journey around the country would involve road trips with his wife Priscilla Chan, visits to Facebook offices, meetings with teachers and scientists, and stops in small towns and universities.
“I’m looking forward to this challenge and I hope to see you out there!” he told the Facebook community, which now has 1.79 billion members.
It’s the latest in a string of moves that indicate Zuckerberg’s intention to pursue government service. In early December, unsealed court filings from a class-action lawsuit filed in April revealed that Zuckerberg and two board members had discussed how the CEO might pursue a political career while retaining control of Facebook.
On Christmas Day, the Facebook CEO revealed that he is no longer an atheist, one of the biggest liabilities a presidential candidate can have, according to research by Pew Research Center. In a cheery update he said: “Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah from Priscilla, Max, Beast and me,” referring to his wife, daughter and dog.
Below the post a commenter asked “aren’t you an atheist?” – Zuckerberg used to declare his lack of faith on his Facebook profile – to which he replied: “No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.”
Zuckerberg has already dipped his toe into politics with the 2013 launch of the lobby group Fwd.us to support immigration reform and expand the H1B visa program, which is widely used in Silicon Valley to hire skilled foreign workers. He had also been ramped up his philanthropic efforts with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, through which he planned to spend $3bn to “cure, prevent or manage all diseases”.
At the same time, Zuckerberg has tried to avoid the appearance of political bias, even as his company has sunk deeper into political controversies, culminating in the accusations that Facebook’s failure to tackle fake news somehow influenced the outcome of the US presidential election.