Earlier this week, NBC News reported that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and board member Peter Thiel had dinner with President Donald Trump at the White House last month. The dinner happened while Zuckerberg was in Washington for a congressional hearing on the social networking site’s cryptocurrency project. It was noteworthy because, among other things, it hadn’t previously been disclosed by either the White House or anyone at Facebook, and there’s no public record of what the trio discussed.
A Facebook spokesperson shrugged the report off, telling NBC, “As is normal for a CEO of a major U.S. company, Mark accepted an invitation to have dinner with the President and First Lady at the White House.”
In some circumstances and with some companies, it might be fair to give a CEO the benefit of the doubt about the meeting. But Facebook’s long history of favoring right-wing views makes it clear that the company does not deserve that benefit.
This is especially true given Trump’s constant trumpeting of the unfounded claim that social media is biased against conservatives.
Twitter and Google have both recently made changes to their ad policies ahead of the 2020 election, at least giving the appearance that they want to avoid having their platforms used as part of misinformation campaigns. But Facebook has remained defiant.
During his October testimony, Zuckerberg misled Congress when asked about the site’s fact-checking program, erroneously implying the platform doesn’t choose its own fact-checking partners. Two days later, Bloomberg reported that Facebook was including Breitbart in its new Facebook News program, designating the right-wing site known for promoting bigoted content as a “trusted” source. Earlier this month, Facebook was listed as a “gold circle”-level sponsor at a right-wing Federalist Society gala featuring Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. (The Daily Beast reported Friday that in her new book, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus explains how Facebook vice president of global public policy Joel Kaplan "'helped quarterback' his friend Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court.")
In recent months, Popular Information’s Judd Legum has reported on the conservative political operatives responsible for much of Facebook’s decision-making, the company’s decision to alter its ad policies in a way that would benefit Trump’s reelection campaign, the connection between Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Facebook News head Campbell Brown, and Facebook’s reluctance to pull down popular foreign pro-Trump propaganda pages even though they’re in seeming violation of the platform's policies.
In October, Politico reported that Zuckerberg had been holding secret dinners with conservatives including CNN’s Mary Katharine Ham, the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro, Town Hall editor and Fox News contributor Guy Benson, the Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell, and Washington Examiner chief political correspondent Byron York. Zuckerberg brushed this report off, writing in a Facebook post that he meets with “lots of people across the spectrum on lots of different issues all the time,” and inspiring The Intercept’s Sam Biddle and Jon Schwarz to embark on a fruitless quest to find leftists who’ve met with Zuckerberg in similar conditions.
In September, Axios reported that tech companies were holding onto conclusive data debunking right-wing talking points about “anti-conservative bias,” a baseless accusation that Facebook has repeatedly treated as though it is being made in good faith. Facebook has also met with right-wing extremists like the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins in search of guidance on its policies, and the site has become a hub for some of the most insidious conservative false talking points about immigration, abortion, climate change, and trans rights.
Time and again, Facebook has given special treatment to conservative media. By now, Zuckerberg has to know that claims of “anti-conservative bias” will never go away, no matter how much the company favors conservative views over those of liberals and, more importantly, over objective truth. It’s not necessarily that he holds right-wing views himself, but as The Guardian’s Julia Carrie Wong tweeted, “Zuckerberg has shown himself willing to support anyone in power that doesn’t threaten his power. This inauspicious list includes not just Trump, but Duterte, Modi, Myanmar’s Tatmadaw and Poland’s Law and Justice society.” So long as “Trump” and “power” are synonymous in the world of U.S. politics, Zuckerberg’s support of the president seems a safe bet.
Update (11/22/19): This post has been updated with additional information.