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Pete Buttigieg was Facebook's 287th user. Now he says the company has too much power

Casey Tolan, The Mercury News on

Published in News & Features

When Zuckerberg embarked on a cross-country trip to see more of the U.S. in 2017 -- attracting rumors about his own presidential ambitions -- he stopped by South Bend to meet with Buttigieg, connected by a mutual Harvard friend. The mayor drove the tech mogul on a tour of the city, as Zuckerberg streamed live video from his cell phone on the dashboard of Buttigieg's car.

Zuckerberg and Buttigieg stayed in touch, and they last spoke earlier this year, his campaign said.

As Buttigieg explained to Zuckerberg on the tour, he's also worked to attract tech investment to his Rust Belt hometown, helping open a data center on the site of an abandoned Studebaker plant and transforming other old factories into glassy work spaces for startups.

"What they've done to revitalize the city is pretty remarkable," marveled Matt Rogers, the co-founder of the smart home company Nest and an investor who's been to the city multiple times at the mayor's invitation. "You go out to dinner in South Bend and the streets are full of millennials, and there are great restaurants that feel like you're in San Francisco."

Rogers, who's hosted fundraisers for Buttigieg, said he found the candidate to be "literate, fluent and deeply knowledgeable" about tech issues.

Buttigieg has suggested that that tech know-how is missing in D.C. He criticized the congressional hearings featuring Zuckerberg and other tech executives last year, which he called "political theater where very little actually got achieved."

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"What we saw was a spectacle of people in charge of regulating a very powerful force demonstrating that they had no concept of what it was they were in charge of overseeing -- which is incredibly dangerous," Buttigieg said, arguing that political leaders "need some kind of literacy in these technologies, what they mean and more importantly what they can do, in order to regulate properly."

"This is not necessarily an age thing, although I think it helps to have grown up with these technologies at your fingertips," he added.

Meanwhile, Buttigieg has toed the line between criticizing tech companies and voicing a more sympathetic perspective.

He said Friday that "a lot of people here in the tech sector still have a David mentality when they've increasingly turned into Goliath." But he added that he believes tech companies are making policy decisions "perhaps, not necessarily with bad intentions," and said he was struck by how many of Silicon Valley's executives have "become very introspective" and are "really reflecting on what they wrought."


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