So has Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg suddenly become a free speech devotee?
If you observe how the political Left is reacting and obsessing over his decision last month to not police political advertisements, you’d think he might have.
His announcement was juxtaposed against the polar opposite move of social media rival Twitter, and its CEO Jack Dorsey, who in early November said his platform would completely ban political ads. The contrast between the two near-simultaneous declarations likely heightened the blowback against Facebook.
The policy means that Facebook won’t subject political ads placed by candidates or advocacy groups to the site’s fact-checking review, as it does with news articles. Nor will ads accused of being false be removed.
Specifically, Zuckerberg said, “In a democracy, I don’t think it’s right for public companies to censor policies or the news.” He downplayed the speculation that he was allowing the ads to bolster Facebook’s bottom line.
“From a business perspective, the controversy that this creates far outweighs the very small percentage of our business that this makes up,” Zuckerberg claimed, saying political ads would represent less than half a percent of revenue next year.
Facebook still has a reputation for censoring conservatives’ posts, likely because of its roots and home base in Silicon Valley, with an employee pool that draws heavily from that liberal enclave. These would be the likely foot soldiers executing the “fact-checks” and deletions of messaging they disagree with, an issue which has been the subject of inquiries by Congress but not yet solved.
Surprisingly, just a few months ago, Zuckerberg admitted his company has a “problem.” In September, four Republican Senators called out Facebook over its censorship of pro-life group Live Action’s post and videos that claimed abortion is not medically necessary. The fact-check that led to restrictions to access of the posts was written by abortionists. The senators rebutted the biased fact-check in a letter to Zuckerburg, and later in the month he met with one of them, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.
“Just finished meeting w @facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg,” Hawley tweeted on September 19th. “Had a frank conversation. Challenged him to do two things to show FB is serious about bias, privacy & competition. 1) Sell WhatsApp & Instagram 2) Submit to independent, third-party audit on censorship. He said no to both.
“Zuckerberg admitted there ‘clearly was bias’ in the @LiveAction @LilaGraceRose censorship,” Hawley continued. “Said bias is ‘an issue we’ve struggled with for a long time.’”
Could this encounter have been a turning point for Zuckerberg on the issue of speech?
The following month Leftists on the Internet freaked out upon learning that Zuckerberg had meetings with conservatives to discuss free speech.
“Mark Zuckerberg has given the non-conservative half of the country a new reason to hate him this week as it’s come out that he secretly met with groups of right-wing pundits, professional firebrands, and journalists in order to appease their cries of liberal bias,” said one site afflicted with Trump Derangement Syndrome.
The personalities who met in a series of dinners with Zuckerberg at his home, according to an October report by Politico, were Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, Fox News host Tucker Carlson, conservative radio talk host Hugh Hewitt, CNN commentator Mary Katharine Ham, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, AEI fellow and former Washington Free Beacon editor Matthew Continetti, Town Hall editor and Fox News contributor Guy Benson, and Media Research Center founder Brent Bozell.
Anonymous sources knowledgeable about the meetings said Zuckerberg made a favorable impression.
“I’ve always thought that he wanted to make things right by conservatives,” said one of the sources to Politico. “I think he’s been genuine in hoping that might happen. Sometimes I think the headwinds are so strong in Palo Alto that I don’t think even he can succeed.”
Whether Zuckerberg sincerely wants to do right by the Right out of the bottom of his heart, or whether he’s acting out of self-preservation, is still in question, however.
“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,” said a cyber-security researcher in Silicon Valley to Politico. “So the fear is that Zuckerberg is trying to appease the Trump administration by not cracking down on right-wing propaganda.”
The alarm on the Left was heightened when the media discovered that Zuckerberg met with Trump himself in the fall…twice within a month. Details of the meetings were scant, but that didn’t stop Democrat presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren from calling it “corruption, plain and simple.”
Reportedly joining Zuckerberg with the President at their second meeting was Facebook board member Peter Thiel, another tech billionaire and co-founder of PayPal. But the difference between him and most of his fellow Silicon Valley tycoons is that while they are mostly liberal, he is a Trump supporter. And he apparently has more of Zuckerberg’s ear lately.
Zuckerberg delivered more First Amendment indicators in a speech at Georgetown, where he again defended Facebook’s political ads policy, which the Wall Street Journal reported was supported by Thiel, against the wishes of some other company directors.
“Political ads can be an important part of voice, especially for local candidates and up and coming challengers that the media might not otherwise cover,” Zuckerberg said at Georgetown. “Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media chooses to cover.”
This sentiment echoed recent comments in an opinion piece in The Hill by conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
“If banning political ads – from candidates, groups, or individual citizens – becomes the norm, that only stands to benefit two groups: incumbent politicians and the mainstream media,” he wrote.
This has caused liberal magazine The New Republic to conclude that Facebook is now “a right-wing company.”
Meanwhile many in the rank-and-file at Facebook want Zuckerberg to reconsider the political ads policy and reinstate censorship, and told him so in a letter.
Who will prevail with the head decision-maker at Facebook in the all-important 2020 campaign cycle – his overseers and regulators in Washington, or his speech-squashing employees in Northern California?
It may boil down to whether Zuckerberg has adopted freedom as a deeply-held belief, or if he is just paying lip service to stave off politicians who would disrupt his business.