A hot potato: Mark Zuckerberg has denied claims he cut a deal with former President Donald Trump's administration in 2019 to avoid fact-checking political posts if it didn't impose "heavy-handed regulations." The claim comes from billionaire entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel's new biography, an excerpt of which was published yesterday.
According to Thiel's book, called "The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley's Pursuit of Power," the billionaire venture capitalist joined Zuckerberg, President Trump, Trump advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and their spouses at the White House in 2019.
Author Max Chafkin writes that "the specifics of the discussion were secret --- but, as I report in my book, Thiel later told a confidant that Zuckerberg came to an understanding with Kushner during the meal."
"Facebook, he promised, would avoid fact-checking political speech --- thus allowing the Trump campaign to claim whatever it wanted. In return the Trump administration would lay off on any heavy-handed regulations."
According to the book, Thiel told a confidant the meeting resulted in an "understanding" that Facebook would push "state-sanctioned conservatism."
In September 2019, Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, announced that the company would not be fact-checking posts from politicians. Zuckerberg famously said that it didn't want to be an "arbiter of truth."
During the Black Lives Matter protests, Facebook failed to remove a post from Trump that read, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," despite Twitter hiding the same statement on its platform. The book also notes that Facebook mostly failed to curtail the spread of 'Stop the Steal' groups in the days before the January 6 US Capitol attack.
While the evidence against Facebook might seem quite damning, the dinner described in the book appears to have taken place a month after Clegg's announcement, in October 2019. Clegg also said that the fact-checking policy had been implemented in September 2018.
Facebook communications chief Andy Stone tweeted that Facebook's "policy was announced before this dinner ever took place." Zuckerberg has also refuted the book's claim, calling it "pretty ridiculous."
In June 2021, Facebook extended Trump's ban from the service to two years and promised to stop giving politicians preferential treatment when deciding if a post is newsworthy.