Did Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg promise then-President Trump that it wouldn’t fact-check political speech?
According to a new book The Contrarian by reporter Max Chafkin on Trump supporter Peter Thiel, Zuckerberg did just that in order to avoid new regulations from the Trump administration.
Remember 2019, that now-distant year before the COVID-19 pandemic and a heated presidential election? All the way back then, more than a year before the 2020 Presidential election, there was a report about a secret October dinner between Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and then-President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. Mashable covered it at the time.
Zuckerberg was in Washington, D.C. for a Congressional hearing on its seemingly now-cancelled digital currency, Libra. While in town, he accepted an invite from Trump for dinner at the White House.
A Facebook statement at the time characterized the meal as completely “normal.”
“As is normal for a CEO of a major U.S. company, Mark accepted an invitation to have dinner with the President and First Lady at the White House,” a Facebook spokesperson told NBC News in 2019 without providing any further insight into what was discussed over said meal.
Chafkin’s new book about Trump backer and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, The Contrarian, which is out on Tuesday, is now shedding some light into what Trump and Zuckerberg discussed during that normal 2019 dinner.
Thiel was in attendance at that 2019 dinner, along with Trump, Zuckerberg, and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. According to an excerpt from The Contrarian, published Monday in NY Mag, Thiel told a “confidant” about a supposed “understanding” between Zuckerberg and Kushner. Facebook would “continue to avoid fact-checking political speech.”
The alleged deal, as reported by Chafkin, would allow Trump – as well as other politicians – to continue saying whatever they’d like on the social network without their speech being fact-checked.
As long as Facebook continued to avoid fact-checking political speech, Trump would avoid any “heavy-handed regulations” targeting Facebook.
Just one month before the dinner, Facebook had announced a new policy that exempted politicians’ speech from the company’s Community Standards. In its announcement, Facebook also reiterated a prior policy commitment: politicians were also exempt from fact-checking on the platform. The announcement proved to be highly controversial, yet, based on the alleged details of dinner, Zuckerberg promised the Trump administration that the company would stand by them.
Then, just days after Zuckerberg’s D.C. hearing and his dinner at the White House, Facebook would announce another odd decision.
The company was partnering with the far-right website Breitbart for its new News tab feature. This feature, which also included news outlets like CBS, NBC, and the Washington Post, was meant to provide “high-quality” news to combat the misinformation running wild on Facebook.
Yet, here was Breitbart, one of the biggest purveyors of misinformation and extremist content, being included as “high quality.” Trump’s former 2016 campaign manager, Steven Bannon, formerly ran the far-right outlet as well.
During a live event to promote the new News tab feature, Zuckerberg avoided any questions from reporters regarding the inclusion of Breitbart.
Mashable has reached out to Facebook for a statement on The Contrarian‘s details of the formerly secret Trump – Zuckerberg dinner. We will update this post when if hear back.