Technology First Look

Why will Mark Zuckerberg visit all 50 US states?

After a year of bad press from 'fake news' stories and manipulated news feeds, the Facebook CEO is embarking on a 'listening tour' to reconnect with its social media users.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen on stage during a town hall at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on Sept. 27, 2015. Mr. Zuckerberg has announced a 'listening tour' to all 50 US states.
Stephen Lam/Reuters | Caption

 Mark Zuckerberg plans to log some serious miles in 2017.

The Facebook chief executive intends to visit at least 30 states this year to get to know as many Americans as possible.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s pledge comes in the wake of a tumultuous year for both Facebook and the nation. The social media network has started to confront head on allegations about fakes news, censorship, and bias. The presidential election, meanwhile, showed the deep political divisions across party, geographic, and class lines.

Through his road trip, Zuckerberg says he wants to hear more about the lives of all different types of Americans with the goal of bringing polarized groups together through Facebook and other ventures.

“My hope for this challenge is to get out and talk to more people about how they’re living, working, and thinking about the future,” Zuckerberg wrote Tuesday in a Facebook post. “It will help me lead the work at Facebook and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative so we can make the most positive impact as the world enters an important new period.”

The itinerary is Zuckerberg’s personal challenge he takes on for himself each January, which he shares with the public at the start of the year. He said his past challenges have included running 365 miles, learn Mandarin, and building an artificial intelligence system for his home.

This year, it will be to have visited all 50 states. By his own estimation, Zuckerberg has apparently already traveled to 20. His travels to remaining states will take on the form of road trips, visits to towns and universities, meetings with teachers and scientists, and recommendations from Facebook users.

The tour will come on the heels of Facebook confronting allegations it contributed to the proliferation of fake news and user biases. During the election, fake news spread across the internet, leading some to lay the blame on social media sites like Facebook. These critics said Facebook allowed the spread of inaccurate articles to go unchecked. In the months beforehand, allegations also surfaced that the social media network reinforced users’ political biases, which Facebook denied.

While Facebook had previously indicated it wasn’t responsible for fake news because it was a tech company not a publisher, Zuckerberg shifted his tone last month during a Facebook Live interview. In a conversation with Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Zuckerberg said Facebook is “a new kind of platform,” not a “traditional technology company.”

“You know, we build technology and we feel responsible for how it’s used,” he said, indicating Facebook is a place for public discourse, like a town square, according to TechCrunch.

Zuckerberg indicated in his Facebook post Tuesday that his national road trip plays into this philosophy.

“Going into this challenge, it seems we are at a turning point in history. For decades, technology and globalization have made us more productive and connected. This has created many benefits, but for a lot of people it has also made life more challenging. This has contributed to a greater sense of division than I have felt in my lifetime,” he wrote. “We need to find a way to change the game so it works for everyone.”

The nature of the challenge – a countrywide tour – has led some to wonder if Zuckerberg is positioning himself to run for office someday. The tech executive did file documents asking Facebook’s board of directors to allow him to work in government while retaining control of Facebook, according to Bloomberg.

Zuckerberg said in his Facebook post Tuesday he will update users soon about how they can join his national tour.