But Buttigieg’s connections to Silicon Valley also run deep. At Harvard at the same time as Mark Zuckerberg, he befriended two of the Facebook founder’s roommates—former New Republic owner Chris Hughes and Joe Green—and became Facebook user number 287. When Zuckerberg went on his (attempted) image-bolstering road trip in 2017, he knocked on Buttigieg’s door. The two drove around Indiana together. “I’m here with my friend, Pete Buttigieg, who’s the mayor here,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook Live post. “One of the youngest mayors in America.”
As mayor, Buttigieg has also worked diligently to connect South Bend with Silicon Valley companies. In his 2019 memoir, The Shortest Way Home, he presents himself as a data junkie, someone intent on using technology to approach the challenges executives face—in the case of running a mid-sized American city, this meant traffic and sewers. He has also—like many other leaders of struggling cities—pushed to turn South Bend into a hub for tech investment, and lobbied for it to become a beacon in the “Silicon Prairie.” In his book, he comes across like a mix of a young tech executive and a technocrat, gushing about “machine learning” and “big data.”
And Buttigieg caught Big Tech’s eye in part because he speaks the language of Silicon Valley—and because as a Harvard graduate and a Rhodes Scholar, he has deep alumni and class-based connections to the leaders of tech companies. Over the past two years, and particularly this year, he has exploited those connections. Buttigieg has cultivated ties with executives at companies like Facebook, Google, and Uber. His campaign manager explicitly referred to the campaign as being modeled on tech companies, telling the AP, “We want to build a campaign that’s a little disruptive, kind of entrepreneurial. Right now, it feels like a startup.” The campaign’s national investment chair, meanwhile, is Swati Mylavarapu, a Silicon Valley veteran who has worked at several tech darlings, including Square and Flippable.
What does this mean for the policies of a man who wants to be the next president? Though relatively light on specifics—a phrase that can describe much of his campaign so far—Buttigieg has pledged to rein in Big Tech. “Antitrust law as we know it has begun to hit its limits with regulating tech companies,” Buttigieg said during an April CNN town hall. “It’s not designed to handle some of these tech companies where there’s actually no price at all. The product is made free, or at least it’s free on its face. We’ve learned in part because of the way our data are used by these companies that nothing is actually free.”
That is a fine place to start, although it notably stops well short of the more ambitious and sweeping proposals laid out by Sanders and Warren. In a later interview, Buttigieg said he would look at controlling tech with a “spectrum” of approaches, using fines and regulations, which might—or might not—include breaking up companies. Again, the mayor’s pitch was light on specifics.