Mark Zuckerberg’s comments a few days ago, about the necessity of a universal basic income, reveal that the Facebook CEO is feeling bold in his now fairly obvious political ambitions.
The very concept of a basic income – paid to every citizen regardless of circumstances – seems antithetical to the current state of US politics. With the electorate voting in a party committed to slashing welfare programs and shrinking the state at every level.
Whilst no decent scientific polls have been conducted (as far as can I see) have been conducted on how popular a basic income policy would be, given that the Republicans have swept to power at every level of government, I’d assume not so much.
But Zuckerberg, and most of Silicone Valley, seem to be convinced it’s the only solution to a looming problem of mass automation of jobs. They’re probably right. But convincing the electorate to splash trillions on paying everyone a wage – when they can’t even agree on universal health care – might be a stretch too far.
Unless, of course, you have Zuckerberg’s vast – all encompassing – propaganda network, otherwise known as Facebook.
If Zuckerberg was to run for political office, it would be hard to imagine him not using Facebook’s incredible wealth of data to support his electoral chances. The depth of data Facebook has access to is mind boggling. It sells what’s called ‘firehose’ access to posts, comments, likes and other activity in real time to data analytics companies for thousands of dollars.
There’s also the basic advertising platform, which anyone with a company page can access, which gives advertisers in-depth, anonymised data on people’s interests, behaviours and demographics. Facebook advert targeting is now a core part of any modern electoral strategy, which has been a bone of contention for regulators.
This is just the stuff Facebook sells to advertisers and data analytics companies. Imagine the data it keeps for itself. The reports it can run, the trends it can spot and profiles it can build with unfettered access to a constant stream of information generated by billions of monthly active users.
Not only could Zuckerberg test policies on unwitting focus group participants, he’d be able to directly influence people’s mood through “emotional contagion”, as the social media giant calls it. How legal this would it would be (probably not very) to use this in an election is to be decided, but it’s certainly possible.
So if Zuckerberg thinks that a universal basic income is the way forward, but the public disagrees, he has the tools to change their minds.