By Christopher B. Daly
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is on the hot seat. He is taking a lot of heat this week for Facebook’s role in the assault on American democracy that took place during the 2016 presidential election.
He deserves a lot of the criticism — for not protecting his users’ privacy, for putting profits above all, for lacking candor at every step of the way.
But he is not the real villain in this piece. The fact is, he was played. Facebook (meaning not just the company but also the vast “community” of users) was used by the real villain.
The moving party in all this was Robert Mercer. Facebook was just sitting there — ripe and perhaps willing to be exploited. But to his credit, Zuckerberg did not embark on a
stealth campaign to change the outcome of our presidential election in ways that damaged the electoral process and stuck us with a president who is — shall we say — not making America great in any way, shape, or form.
That role was played by Robert Mercer. He is the billionaire who decided to take the fortune he made as a hedge fund manager and deploy it in politics.
Here’s a quick bio:
Born in 1946 at the very leading edge of the Baby Boom. Raised in New Mexico.
Got his bachelor’s degree in physics and math at the publicly funded state-run University of New Mexico.
He got experience in writing computer programs at the taxpayers’ expense while working in a weapons lab at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.
Then, he topped off his education at the public’s expense by getting a PhD from the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign).
Later, he joined the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, where he made a fortune in the stock market (which functions only because it is regulated, at taxpayer expense, so it does not operate as a den of thieves).
And what was his take-away from all the benefits he derived from all those publicly funded or regulated operations? Apparently, his reaction was a strong hatred of government, regulation, and taxes.
Thanks a lot. After all we did for you, this is the gratitude we get?
It gets worse. Because he is a billionaire (in a society where the rule of law protects him and allows him to keep his money safe), he is able to act on his views in ways that are not available to ordinary citizens. Empowered specifically by the Citizens United ruling, which equated spending money with speaking and therefore allows essentially unlimited spending on politics, Mercer has taken a comprehensive approach:
–donating to conservative “think tanks” that produce the rationales for raging social inequality
–donating directly to Republican campaigns for office (Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and many others)
–secretly manipulating the outcome of the Brexit campaign
–providing financial backing for Breitbart News and supporting its chief Steve Bannon
–backing Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining and analysis firm, for the specific purpose of influencing American politics. It was Cambridge Analytica that picked Mark Zuckerberg’s pockets and used all that Facebook data to promote Trump and denigrate Hillary Clinton.
Compared to Mercer, Zuckerberg seems like a kinda sweet, perhaps naive, young guy. With any luck, Zuckerberg is wising up fast. He will need to if he wants to keep swimming in the same ocean as sharks like Mercer.