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Mark Zuckerberg arriving in Paris for meeting

Zuckerberg defends hosting private dinners with right-wing figures

Image credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has defended his secretive meetings with prominent conservative figures, stating that he meets with “lots of people across the spectrum.”

In the past year, prominent right-wing figures – including President Donald Trump – have accused mainstream social media platforms of demonstrating anti-conservative bias, such as by removing, demoting or otherwise suppressing their content. 

At a Senate hearing in April, Republican lawmakers accused Google, Facebook and Twitter of political bias; all three companies denied the allegations, while Democratic lawmakers said that the accusations stemmed from a misunderstanding of algorithms and content moderation practices.

Facebook and other platforms have been put under pressure to tighten their content moderation policies and practices following a series of scandals, including the widespread sharing of a video of the mass shooting of Muslim worshippers by a white nationalist terrorist in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March. The incident led Facebook to announce that white nationalist and separatist content would be treated like explicitly white supremacist content and banned from the platform. However, the debate over where to draw a safe and acceptable line to protect freedom of legitimate political expression while rejecting falsehoods and extremism has continued.

Recently, Facebook attracted further criticism for its decision to allow politicians to use lies in political adverts on its platform in spite of widespread criticism of its failure to tackle disinformation campaigns, including by UK lawmakers and the EU.

Democratic presidential frontrunner Elizabeth Warren – who Mark Zuckerberg has privately sworn to "go to the mat and fight" over her calls to break up tech giants – responded by posting a campaign advert containing a deliberate lie (acknowledged in the advert) to draw attention to the issue.

This week, Zuckerberg was reported to have held a series of intimate dinner meetings with prominent conservative figures. Guests included Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, whose discourse has been frequently characterised as white supremacist; talk show host Hugh Hewitt; hard-right commentator Ben Shapiro; Senator Lindsey Graham, and socially conservative activist Brent Bozell.

According to Politico, these off-the-record dinners have been held at his private homes since July. A source told Politico that subjects discussed over the dinners included “free expression, unfair treatment of conservatives, the appeals process for real or perceived unfair treatment, fact checking, partnerships and privacy”.

Zuckerberg defended the meetings, stating that he had been “hearing from a range of viewpoints” and reassuring right-wing figures that their concerns were being heard.

“There’s some press today discussing dinners I’ve had with conservative politicians, media and thinkers. To be clear, I have dinners with lots of people across the spectrum on lots of different issues all the time,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page. “Meeting new people and hearing from a wide range of viewpoints is part of learning. If you haven’t tried it, I suggest you do!”

According to The Washington Post, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey hosted a similar dinner for conservative figures in July 2018.

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