Zuckerberg, Facebook increasingly in political spotlight

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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has increasingly used his perch atop his massive social media platform to speak out on political issues — including immigration reform, the Syrian refugee crisis and solidarity with the Muslim community.

While Zuckerberg’s veiled shot last week at Donald Trump’s call for a wall on the Mexican border was a rare entry into the presidential debate, the Facebook creator has regularly made his views known on debates of the day.

{mosads}Zuckerberg and Facebook have an enormous influence over the political debate because of their business, which is used by the candidates and their supporters as a messaging and recruiting tool to deliver and share news about their campaigns. 

The confluence of events will put Zuckerberg and Facebook in the spotlight, especially when he chooses to makes his views known.

“It is no surprise that tech CEOs are trying to use their platform to influence political change and that they may be quite trusted, given the low amount of trust that people feel toward politicians as a broader group,” said Margie Omero, who leads research at the firm Purple Strategies. “That said people have more interaction with the product than they do with the CEO.”

Zuckerberg himself called his lofty speech last week at a developers conference unlike any he had given.

Aside from previewing Facebook’s 10-year roadmap, he also used the speech to challenge people to choose “hope over fear” and criticized “fearful voices calling for building walls” — a phrase many interpreted as a knock at Trump. 

Though the company recently tried to pour cold water on the idea that Facebook would ever use its product to try to skim support from any candidate, a spokeswoman said Zuckerberg would continue to speak out on public policy. 

“Facebook’s mission is to connect the world and bring people together – Mark will continue to advocate for public policies to the extent that it helps advance our mission or the mission of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative,” a Facebook spokeswoman said, referring to the charitable company led by the company’s founder and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

Just in the last several months, Zuckerberg has spoken out on a number of hotly debated issues, including a handful apparently aimed at Trump. 

In December, Zuckerberg shared a post that was liked 1.5 million times assuring the Muslim community that they were “always welcome” on Facebook. His words came a day after Trump had called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Zuckerberg has been most active on the issue of immigration reform in recent years, helping to found an advocacy group to push reform and using one of his few visits to Washington back in 2013 to lobby on the issue. 

It made sense that Zuckerberg’s most biting line during last week’s speech was widely interpreted as a repudiation of Trump’s position to finish building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to cut off the flow of immigrants illegally entering the country.

“I don’t pretend that our press releases get the same attention as when Mark speaks out on this issue by any means,” president Todd Schulte said, adding that he is “thankful and proud” to have a founder so dedicated to the issue.

Zuckerberg has been testing out a milder version of the “building walls” line for months now. 

“As I travel around the world, I see many nations turning inwards. I hear growing voices for building walls and distancing people labeled as ‘other,’” Zuckerberg wrote early last month after signing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court to support President Obama’s executive action on immigration. 

Some advocates who are strongly opposed to Trump applauded Zuckerberg’s words but have already called for follow through — specifically to publicly vow that Facebook will not participate in the Republican convention this year. Groups like ColorOfChange have been putting pressure on other major companies like Google, Microsoft and Coca-Cola to pull their sponsorship.  

“With comments like those made by Mark Zuckerberg, it is our hope that he and others will show the same level of integrity when it comes to rejecting the violent rhetoric and policies being espoused by Donald Trump by refusing to invest in the RNC Convention,” said Rashad Robinson, who leads ColorOfChange. 

Facebook is not the specific target of that pressure campaign and the company declined to respond to that question. 

On other issues, Zuckerberg has found that circumstances forced him to address dicey political topics including net neutrality in other countries and support for the black lives movement. 

Aside from Zuckerberg’s speeches and Facebook posts, he has also donated millions to political causes in years past. And Facebook itself, has become a lobbying powerhouse in Washington. 

Zuckerberg helped found the group in 2013, to lobby and donate to candidates who support comprehensive immigration reform. And back in 2010, he donated $100 million to help New Jersey schools. Both efforts saw their share of early controversy over how the money was spent. 

In 2014, he donated $25 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the height of the Ebola outbreak. And last December, he and his wife set up a limited liability company to donate 99 percent of the family’s Facebook shares throughout their lifetimes. 

Zuckerberg’s donations to political candidates, by comparison, have been infrequent. Since 2011, he has donated $63,600 to candidates or political action committees. The latest donations are from 2015, where he donated to the Democratic Party in San Francisco and Facebook’s own PAC. He donated to Marco Rubio’s senate campaign in 2013, but that money was partially returned last year when Rubio entered the presidential race. 

When asked last year if he would donate to any presidential candidate this cycle, Zuckerberg simply said he had “no real decision on that.”


Tags Donald Trump Facebook Illegal immigration Immigration Islam Marco Rubio

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