Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been meeting conservative leaders, journalists, and pundits in private dinners and off-the-record meetings. The news was first reported by Politico. Most of these meetings were hosted on Zuckerberg’s California home.
Some of the people who have attended include Senator Lindsay Graham from South Carolina, conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson, CNN conservative contributor Mary Katharine Ham, and right-wing commentator on Fox News Ben Shapiro.
The meetings come as Facebook finds itself in the middle of growing Democratic and Republican criticisms. While Democrats have accused the social media company of doing very little to stem the flow of disinformation on the platform, Republicans, on the other hand, have accused Facebook of muting conservative viewpoints. It seems like Zuckerberg is reaching out to conservatives in an effort to quash increasing right-wing calls to crack down on the company.
Trump himself has in the past threatened to sue Google and Facebook for what he calls a deliberate effort by these companies to be biased against conservative viewpoints. As the biggest social media platforms in the world, Facebook holds considerable influence and has been used by politicians to put out their message. However, over the past few years, the company has been embroiled in a number of scandals that have led to increased scrutiny on its operations.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal, in particular, that was reported early this year raised massive concern on Facebook’s data practices and the privacy users. Over 80 million people were affected by the scandal. Just recently, Facebook has found itself in the eye of the storm after allowing ads from politicians that don’t go through third-party fact-checking. As a result, politicians, especially the Trump campaign, have been posting misleading and outright incorrect info through Facebook ads.
Facebook has since said that it doesn’t intend to play referrer in US politics. The company says that all ads put out by politicians should reach targeted users as they are without any alteration. The meetings with conservative leaders come at a very interesting time though. It’s clear that Facebook has been feeling the heat from the right and it looks like Zuckerberg is doing all it takes to allay fears that the social media platform is biased.
People familiar with the discussions note that the meetings have largely focused on the subjects of free speech, the unfair treatment of conservatives on the platform, privacy issues, fact-checking, and potential partnerships. It’s not clear whether these latest efforts by Facebook will change how conservatives view the platform. But it’s not only Facebook that has come under fire from the right.
During an interview with Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo, Trump accused Twitter of “making it harder for followers to find and follow” him. The president has also accused Google of censoring him and his followers. Although the Trump administration has threatened action against these major Silicon Valley companies, so far nothing has been done. However, some analysts argue that if Facebook’s CEO is starting to meet right-wing leaders and pundits, it could mean that a possible enforcement action by the Justice Department is imminent.