Mark Zuckerberg has apparently been hosting “off-the-record dinners” with some very right-wing pundits and at least one politician to discuss "free speech".
Multiple sources confirmed to Politico that the Facebook CEO had been holding dinners with the likes of Tucker Carlson and Ben Shapiro as part of a charm offensive to quell Republican outrage at the social media platform’s perceived anti-right bias.
It is not clear if the dinner parties began before or after Donald Trump threatened to sue Facebook and Google in June, somehow arguing that Twitter made it difficult for people to follow him.
One Silicon Valley-based cybersecurity researcher and former government official told Politico:
The discussion in Silicon Valley is that Zuckerberg is very concerned about the Justice Department, under Bill Barr, bringing an enforcement action to break up the company.
So the fear is that Zuckerberg is trying to appease the Trump administration by not cracking down on right-wing propaganda.
While talk of antitrust laws to contain tech giants has been brewing for some time, Facebook has come under fire from Democrats in recent weeks for changing its rules in ways that allegedly favour the right.
Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren recently highlighted this rule change by taking out a “fake” Facebook advert, which showed a picture of Zuckerberg and Trump shaking hands and said:
Breaking news: Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook just endorsed Donald Trump for re-election.
She quickly clarified her statement was false, but continued:
What Zuckerberg *has* done is given Donald Trump free rein to lie on his platform – and then pay Facebook gobs of money to push out their lies to American voters.
Elizabeth Warren is now running FB ads with a false statement about Mark Zuckerberg and FB endorsing Trump for pres… https://t.co/Dz550P1NZM
— Julia Carrie Wong (@Julia Carrie Wong)
The row came after it emerged (via a fake Trump ad about Joe Biden, because of course) that the company had quietly changed its policy online to downgrade its ban on “deceptive, false or misleading content” to only exclude “previously debunked content”.
The ordinary rules still apply to everyday people. It's just politicians that can lie freely on the platform.
Democrats argued this allowed Trump and others on the right to peddle fake stories that went viral before they could be fact-checked.
To be clear, they definitely could be fact-checked – by the company Facebook pays to do so – however Zuckerberg and co had since decided not to get in the way of "free speech".
Nick Clegg, former Lib Dem leader turned Facebook PR guru, clarified their position with a tennis analogy, you can read in this press release in full.
So as news of Mr Zuckerberg’s secret dinners came to light, it’s easy to see why some felt fairly suspicious.
The issue here is not the dinners - reaching out across the isle is a good thing in these divided times. The proble… https://t.co/RCsqUtwKex
— Michael Kazarnowicz (@Michael Kazarnowicz)
It's also worth noting that when Warren ruffled his feathers, Zuckerberg warned Facebook may have to sue the US government if she became president, saying he would "go to the mat and fight".
On Tuesday, the tech giant posted a status update to suggest everyone had more dinners with Republicans. He wrote:
There's some press today discussing dinners I've had with conservative politicians, media and thinkers.
To be clear, I have dinners with lots of people across the spectrum on lots of different issues all the time.
Meeting new people and hearing from a wide range of viewpoints is part of learning. If you haven't tried it, I suggest you do!
Ok Ellen https://t.co/KOAbTPsMLr
— Daniel Kibblesmith (@Daniel Kibblesmith)
@NatashaBertrand @dlippman Who’d have thought the guy who started FB as a vile slur against women would turn out to… https://t.co/1KdpTPBMOr