Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t think social media companies should be arbiters of truth. He’s full of shit.
In an interview with Fox News anchor Dana Perino, the Facebook founder and CEO chided Twitter for its decision to add a fact check to one of President Donald Trump’s tweets containing an unhinged conspiracy theory about rampant voter fraud. According to Zuckerberg, that’s not the kind of thing Facebook would do because the social media company is committed to free speech and letting people judge for themselves whether politicians are telling the truth. But as is so often the case when it comes to the Silicon Valley billionaires guiding our digital lives, he’s not being entirely honest about how Facebook has handled the Trump era.
Let’s review the simple truth about Zuckerberg: He’s a hypocrite and a Trumpist. It might seem Facebook has followed this “free speech” approach in turning a blind eye to Trump’s many lies, but he's shown he’s more than willing to be an “arbiter of truth” for others. Facebook does fact-check posts, and it does limit their reach and flag violations based on what third-party fact-checkers determine -- but it has also carved out a Trump-sized exemption for politicians. Prior to an October change to Facebook’s advertising rules on false information, Trump had been repeatedly violating its policies without facing consequences. That October policy change exempted politicians on the advertising side of things, as well.
Statements from politicians are exempt from fact-checking on Facebook except for two specific areas: misleading posts about the U.S. Census and voting. “Attempts to interfere with or suppress voting undermine our core values as a company, and we work proactively to remove this type of harmful content,” reads an October Facebook blog post on content that may suppress votes. “We remove this type of content regardless of who it’s coming from.” This was later clarified on Facebook’s blog post about census misinformation, specifying that “as with voter interference, content that violates our census interference policy will not be allowed to remain on our platforms as newsworthy even if posted by a politician.”
In March, Facebook briefly allowed the Trump campaign to run ads that violated its census interference policy before changing course. According to a Media Matters analysis earlier this month, the Trump campaign published at least 529 Facebook ads with false claims of voter fraud in just two days, which it shouldn’t have received exemptions to do under Facebook’s voter suppression rule.
Facebook is extremely comfortable being the “arbiters of truth,” so long as “truth” matches what Trump and pro-Trump groups say
In 2019, after an anti-abortion group posted videos on Facebook claiming that “abortion is never medically necessary,” a fact check from medical professionals marked that as false. But after right-wing media outlets and several Republican senators complained that this accurate fact check was a form of censorship, Facebook removed it. Even after another third-party entity reviewed the issue and cleared Facebook of “any systemic bias,” Facebook did not reapply its fact checks.
In March, an offshoot of Fox host Tucker Carlson’s conservative outlet The Daily Caller used its fact-checking status on Facebook to get an unflattering post about the president marked as false and downranked. After Trump claimed that Democratic concern about the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak and potential for it to take on pandemic status was a “hoax,” Check Your Fact swooped in to get a Politico post about his comments marked as “false information.”
Earlier this month, The Lincoln Project, a group of “Never Trump” Republicans, released an ad critical of Trump. After the president worked himself into a fury over the video on Twitter, Facebook rejected it as an ad and buried the organically uploaded version of the clip under a “partly false” label. It was so labeled because of its claim that “Donald Trump bailed out Wall Street but not Main Street” in the CARES Act. The thinking here apparently goes that because the bill did some good for “Main Street,” it was false enough for Facebook to reject it.
When Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) ran an ad calling for the break-up of Facebook, Amazon, and Google, Facebook removed the post. After proving Warren’s point, Facebook reinstated the ads.
For years, Zuckerberg and Facebook have been making increasingly obvious overtures to conservatives, even bringing on Republican operatives to help them craft policy.
In 2017, in an effort to address the flood of false news being shared before the 2016 election, Facebook announced fact-checking partnerships with The Associated Press, ABC News, PolitiFact, FactCheck.org, and Snopes. Conservatives immediately complained, falsely claiming that these mainstream news organizations were somehow “left-wing” and “liberal” partisans, with The Daily Caller claiming that Snopes was engaged in “outright lying in service of a liberal narrative.” Facebook responded to this criticism from the right by adding The Weekly Standard, an explicitly partisan conservative publication with a lengthy track record of spreading misinformation, as a fact-checker. Check Your Fact, an extension of The Daily Caller, was later added as another.
In 2018, after conservatives baselessly complained about supposed “anti-conservative bias” on Facebook, the site hired former Republican Sen. Jon Kyl to audit the platform. Kyl’s eventual report was a flop, but it showed just how easily Zuckerberg is goaded to adopt conservatives’ framing on any given issue.
In October, Popular Information’s Judd Legum reported on Facebook’s embrace of the right. “Everyone in power is a Republican,” a former Facebook employee in the company’s D.C. office told Legum. “Decisions are made to benefit Republicans because they are paranoid about their reputation among conservative Republicans, particularly Trump.”
To say “everyone in power is a Republican” didn’t actually turn out to be much of a stretch. Facebook Vice President for Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan, the man who reportedly pushed for Facebook to partner with right-wing groups like The Daily Caller and Breitbart, is a former deputy White House chief of staff for George W. Bush. Vice President for U.S. Public Policy Kevin Martin is another former member of the George W. Bush administration, serving at the Federal Communications Commission. Public Policy Director for Global Elections Katie Harbath is a longtime Republican operative and former chief digital strategist for the Republican National Committee.
Zuckerberg is not being duped by the right-wing; he’s part of it.
It’s telling that Zuckerberg’s first instinct was to side with Trump in his latest Twitter tirade and run to Fox News to defend the decision. It’s not surprising, but it’s telling all the same.
Fox News is where Trump will be sure to see him, and Zuckerberg is pandering to his audience of one.
In October, Zuckerberg met secretly with Trump for dinner at the White House. It’s anybody’s guess what the two of them discussed, but there’s only so much time one can devote to telling Trump that he’s “No. 1 on Facebook.”
Last year, Politico reported that Zuckerberg had connected quietly with conservative commentators, media executives, and politicians in a series of private meetings. Those of us on the outside should see this for what it is. As persistent as the Silicon Valley liberal stereotype is, this isn’t Zuckerberg meeting with his ideological opposites. This is Zuckerberg in his element, with his friends, getting ready to reelect the president. That’s who Mark Zuckerberg is, and it’s why he’s been giving Trump a pass this whole time.