In his new, obsessively documented mission to gather (and probably, in some way, monetise) the authenticity of Common People, Facebook's putty-faced CEO is doing exactly what common people do: showing up to places uninvited, unannounced, and demanding absolute secrecy from strangers.
As Amy Dudley, one of Zuckerberg's handlers and a former aide to Tim Kaine and Joe Biden, explained to The Wall Street Journal in a new article about the tour's organisation:
"[T]hese visits is to have the most honest and candid interactions and discussions as possible, without the additional attention that's likely to come as a result of word getting out ahead of time."
In this case, "honest and candid" reportedly involves a posse of around eight assistants and managers pulling up with little to no warning in black SUVs so that Mark can chit-chat with the regular schmucks who helped make him the fifth richest man alive. Any interaction is almost immediately commodified as a painstakingly-manicured photo op, shot in a manner that minimizes the incongruity between Zuckerberg's indoor kid complexion and the backdrop of some blighted Rust Belt town. After that, the Cone of Silence descends.
"They asked me not to quote what Mr. Zuckerberg said," one anointed Iowan told the Journal. "They said to refer people to their press guys."
The newspaper's discoveries about these adventures are rife with accidental comedy. During his stay in Alaska, for instance, Zuck wrote glowingly about the state's Permanent Fund Dividend — a form of universal income paid out to residents through oil revenues which he claims "shows basic income is a bipartisan idea." Alaska's PFD pays out about $US1,000 ($1,302) annually. While there, Zuckerberg and his crew stayed in a $US1,000 ($1,302)-per-night resort, the Journal reports.
Zuckerberg's team has vehemently denied that this transcontinental road show hints at a future presidential run, despite sharing all the hallmarks and even some of the operatives of a political candidate's early ground game. But it's not like Zuck is getting back to his bootstrapping roots either: Even before he was fantastically wealthy and powerful, he had a comfortable upbringing as the son of two doctors growing up in White Plains, New York. If we're to take the CEO's representatives at their word, then the trek is meant to resemble a spiritual quest in the vein of Siddhartha Gautama, leaving behind all earthly possessions to gaze into the suffering and boredom of regular life — only Mark is still just a rich weirdo trying to acquire hearts and minds to go along with the troves of user data attached to them.
The hypocrisy of begging secrecy after building a platform that exists to syphon personal information from two billion unsuspecting people is self-evident. Authenticity in the way Mark is trying to achieve it is laughable. Realistically though, that's not the point.
If you owned the largest social network and had the means to shape every aspect of your personal narrative, wouldn't you do everything in your power to avoid media attention, especially when journalists might well contradict the story you're trying to tell? In this way Zuck's tour-de-poor blog posts resembles Trump's Twitter addiction, not in tone, but in strategic mistrust of the media — only the richer and better-managed of the two men is somehow stunningly bad at circumventing attention in a way that actually helps his celebrity status.
From the Journal:
The secrecy surrounding Mr. Zuckerberg's visits has nearly led to his target audience blowing him off.
Adam Kragthorpe, who runs a local youth hockey program in Minnetonka, Minn., deleted the initial email from James Eby requesting a meeting for "a Fortune 500 CEO who is travelling the United States and visiting a wide range of communities."
"We thought it was a multilevel marketing scheme," Mr. Kragthorpe said.
You thought right.