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Editorial: Zuckerberg's visit good for North Dakota

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, center, meets with workers at a drilling rig near Williston Tuesday, July 11, 2017. Photo provided by Bakken Backers.

Mark Zuckerberg has the look of a presidential candidate. The founder of Facebook is touring the country, learning all he can about things that could become political issues in the next few years.

He calls it a "listening tour," and he's providing quotes and anecdotes at each stop along the way — just like a candidate.

It's prompting speculation. The Washington Times has noted how Zuckerberg is traveling the "path of presidential candidates." Other publications are writing about it, too.

Zuckerberg hasn't declared any political aspirations, but there are hints. At present, he's on his "Year of Travel" challenge to visit every state. Last week in North Dakota, he stopped in Williston to visit an oil rig and talk to folks in that city's Economic Development office. Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, accompanied Zuckerberg and said he "had more questions than we had time."

That sounds an awful lot like a candidate.

Why not? Zuckerberg is only 33, but he is among the most influential people in America, thanks to Facebook, which has transformed how so much information is delivered. He is a voice for his generation, is intelligent and has a massive following. He also has money — and lots of it. His personal fortune is said to be more than $60 billion.

And here's an interesting twist: Zuckerberg is a great proponent of green, renewable energy and reversing the effects of climate change. Upon visiting North Dakota, he had every opportunity to rally his followers on what many feel are the ill effects of oil.

But he didn't. Instead, he talked about the positive effect the much-maligned Dakota Access Pipeline had on people he met.

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"When the Dakota Access Pipeline was approved, that removed $6 to $7 per barrel of cost from producing oil in the region, which brought more investment and jobs here," he wrote. "A number of people told me they had felt their livelihood was blocked by the government, but when (Donald) Trump approved the pipeline, they felt a sense of hope again. That word 'hope' came up many times around this."

Again, that sounds like a candidate.

If Zuckerberg decides to actually run for president in 2020 or beyond, don't overlook him. Rich, famous and ambitious can go a long way in a presidential run. Nobody seems to know what party he favors, but many young Democrats aren't necessarily pleased with current Republican policies.

In the meantime, we appreciate Zuckerberg's visit. It would have been easy for him to bash the oil industry, but he chose instead to provide an honest and fair view to his followers.

Candidate or not, Zuckerberg's visit was good for North Dakota.

This editorial first appeared July 18th in the Grand Forks Herald.

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