Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
If I’m honest, the main reason I can hardly bear to look at Facebook isn’t its well-documented negative effect on mental health, its tedious photos of people I barely know and hardly remember, or the videos it automatically generates of the lowest and most desperate moments from my life, accompanied by ukulele.
None of that. I’ve come to hate Facebook because every so often, a box appears on the screen telling me I might want to like the Facebook page for Mark Zuckerberg. And there he is, grinning like a cartoon imp at me and millions of other unfortunates, intruding with his gangly stomp and his eyes full of monstrous wonder.
I do not like Mark Zuckerberg. But he wants me to.
Let’s not pretend Zuckerberg isn’t up to something, and whatever it is, he shouldn’t be allowed to do it. He’s claimed repeatedly that he’s not interested in making a presidential run, but if he isn’t, his behavior simply makes no sense. Normal, everyday megalomaniacal billionaires might decide to go on a year-long, 50-state tour of America, dropping in on hard-working folks and small business owners, publicly rhapsodizing about the food in every roadside diner they happen to come across. But they probably wouldn’t do it while accompanied by President Obama’s former campaign photographer. Tech giants might be keen to hire some political intelligence. But if it was just smarts Zuckerberg was after, he wouldn’t have snapped up the strategist and in-house pollster who disastrously mismanaged the last election for Hillary Clinton. Our new breed of dorky oligarch micro-messiahs might constantly promote Big Ideas That Could Save World. But they don’t proclaim that the good people of Wilton, Iowa, “share these values around mobility.”
So much for innovation. Mark Zuckerberg can send solar-powered drones to beam Facebook-only internet across the global south, but he can’t deviate from the tired folksy script of every other self-important grifter who decided he wanted the power of life and death over every human being on the planet.
There are some very good reasons why Mark Zuckerberg should not be allowed anywhere near the presidency. For a start, he will lose—to Trump or to whatever other monstrosity the Republicans run against him. He can only embody the politics of bland aspiration and imperious technocratic mumblings, alienating the left and inflaming the right. Second, with the entire media basically functioning as a command economy run by Facebook, Zuckerberg in office would constitute a conflict of interests and a potential for corruption so vast it would make any of Trump’s misdeeds look like minor accounting problems. Third, it would entrench the long slow rot of electoral politics, permanently establishing the nuclear codes as the private property of TV clowns and gussied-up motivational speakers. Fourth, he keeps on describing Facebook as a “community” based on “friendship,” rather than what it is—a social utility that occasionally reveals itself as a seething plasm of technologically mediated dislocation. Finally, the tech industry is a hive of inflated egos and reckless self-regard, widening the wealth gap, steadily consigning most of the human population of Earth to the status of surplus flesh, and it must not be let anywhere near political power.
All of these are very good reasons. But they’re not the most pressing or the most urgent. The real reason all Zuckerberg’s dreams of power have to be crushed now before they bear terrible fruit is this: in the 13 years since he first launched Facebook, he never gave us the dislike button.
If you want to know what Zuckerberg would be like as the warlord-in-chief of human history’s most terrifying empire, go to Facebook and look at the seamless nothing where the dislike button ought to be. It’s not just that it’s thoroughly undemocratic. For as long as Facebook has been an inescapable fact of life, its users have been clamoring for the ability to dislike each other’s posts, and Zuckerberg will not give it to them. Instead, we’ve gotten a series of incoherent cosmetic overhauls—groups are now pages, pages now have groups for pages—that nobody asked for and which are met with an immediate hatred that gives way to impotent acceptance.
It says a lot about his style of leadership. He knows what’s best for us, and he’ll do it, and what we think doesn’t really matter. But it’s more fundamental than that. Commenting on his refusal to add the dislike button, Zuckerberg said, “Some people have asked for a dislike button because they want to be able to say, ‘That thing isn’t good.’ That’s not something that we think is good… I don’t think there needs to be a voting mechanism on Facebook about whether posts are good or bad. I don’t think that’s socially very valuable or good for the community to help people share the important moments in their lives.”
He wants to deprive people of their ability to say no.
What’s at stake is nothing less than the possibility of negation or distinction. After all, at the core of managerial centrism is an instinctive reluctance to say that anything is good or bad. Zuckerberg’s idea is that Facebook can be a discursive space without conflict, in which people can simply share what they want, and meet a quantifiable reward. Everything starts with zero likes and grows from there: you accrue social currency mollusc-like onto yourself, until you’re encased in a hard shell of likes and shares. Everything finds its inherent value, and a community is formed. It’s a shadowless world of pure positivity. But the ability to oppose is essential for anything approaching a critical activity; it’s only by some kind of negation that thought can wrench itself free from what simply is. Negativity, as Hegel puts it, “is the energy of unconditional thinking.” A world of countable positivity is a world that is, essentially, mute.
More simply, this is not how society or politics really work. They do not form a kind of harmonious totality, where we all start from the same place and reach upward. Politics is a sphere of competing interests, agonisms and class struggle, in which the success of one set of aims always means the defeat of others. The expansion of labor rights means muzzling a powerful class of industrial capitalists; civil rights for ethnic minorities means tearing apart an entrenched system of white supremacy. Politics is struggle. But in the Facebook utopia, struggle is supposed to be impossible. There’s no contestation; instead, what is deemed to be bad is simply canceled out, removed silently and overnight by a team of invisible moderators.
In this context, a lot of Zuckerberg’s weirder pronouncements start to make sense. Earlier this year, he published a long, jargon-choked manifesto titled Building Global Community. He wants the world to be coded like Facebook—and by Facebook—as a community based on connections and commonality. The struggles going on in the world don’t need to be won, they just need to be subsumed through a greater inclusion in this community. It’s padded out by a lot of friendly sounding pap like:
“The purpose of any community is to bring people together to do things we couldn’t do on our own. To do this, we need ways to share new ideas and share enough common understanding to actually work together.”
In the end, it can all be summarized in five words. No dislike button, for anybody.
Of course, Zuckerberg isn’t the first to promote these kind of ideas. The notion that a national or supernational entity forms a cohesive community without internal conflict is as old as politics itself, and everywhere it’s put forward it’s as a mask for horrific acts of exploitation within that community. Zuckerberg is different in that he seems to genuinely believe it. This is why he might be the most dangerous presidential candidate yet. In the same way that the Republican party spent decades churning out paranoia and nonsense for a base of frothing reactionaries until they finally found themselves saddled with a president who actually believes everything he reads on Breitbart, the Democrats might be about to create a monster of their own: someone who mouths all their nonsense about never disliking anything and never saying that anything is bad with absolute conviction, a cherub-cheeked gargoyle of pious equanimity, entranced by his own capacity to bring everyone together, as those who suffer are smashed brutally underfoot. And then he’ll turn his terrifying grin toward us, and say: you might like this.