Biden’s path to the White House could hit a dead end on Facebook

Biden’s path to the White House could hit a dead end on Facebook

  • Mark Zuckerberg’s autocratic nature and fear of anti-trust legislation might see him plump for Trump in the race for president

Way back in June, I wrote a column under the headline: “One man stands between Joe Biden and the US presidency – Mark Zuckerberg”. Trump, flailing against the pandemic at the time, was trailing Biden in the polls, just as at the same point in 2016 he had been trailing Hillary Clinton. And yet we know what happened that November: Trump’s team made inspired use of Facebook’s targeting engine to suppress Democratic turnout in key states – and it worked. What is perhaps less well known is that Facebook offered to “embed” employees for free in the campaign offices of both candidates to help them use the platform effectively. Clinton’s campaign refused the offer. Trump’s crowd accepted, and Facebook employees helped his campaign craft the messages that may have clinched the election.

So here we are in 2020, 100 days from the presidential election. Trump is still trailing Biden. But his base support has remained solid. So the point I made in June still stands: if he is to win a second term, Facebook will be his only hope – which is why his campaign is betting the ranch on it. And if Facebook were suddenly to decide that it would not allow its platform to be used by either campaign in the period from now until 3 November, Trump would be a one-term president, free to spend even more time with his golf buggy – and perhaps his lawyers.

For Facebook read Zuckerberg, for Facebook is not just a corporate extension of its founder’s personality, but his personal plaything. I can’t think of any other tech founder who has retained such an iron grip on his creation through his ownership of a special class of shares, which give him total control. The passage in the company’s SEC filing detailing this makes for surreal reading. It says that Zuckerberg “has the ability to control the outcome of matters submitted to our stockholders for approval, including the election of directors and any merger, consolidation, or sale of all or substantially all of our assets. This concentrated control could delay, defer, or prevent a change of control, merger, consolidation, or sale of all or substantially all of our assets that our other stockholders support, or conversely this concentrated control could result in the consummation of such a transaction that our other stockholders do not support.”