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Trump attacks threaten to pull Facebook back into culture war

Trump attacks threaten to pull Facebook back into culture war
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President Trump’s Wednesday attack on Facebook threatens to pull the social media giant back into the culture war.

Trump’s barrage, launched in a series of tweets, comes a year after Facebook found itself embroiled in controversy over how its newsfeed editors treated conservative media. And it coincides with the ongoing congressional investigations into Russian influence, which have raised questions about whether Kremlin-linked actors used Facebook to influence the election.

“Facebook was always anti-Trump,” Trump wrote in a tweet Wednesday morning. “The Networks were always anti-Trump hence,Fake News, @nytimes(apologized) & @WaPo were anti-Trump. Collusion?”

“But the people were Pro-Trump! Virtually no President has accomplished what we have accomplished in the first 9 months-and economy roaring,” the president added in another tweet.

Trump’s tweet is an apparent reference to Facebook’s admission earlier this month that it had sold $100,000 worth of political ads to an organization called the Internet Research Agency, which is suspected of having ties to the Kremlin.

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Facebook said it would hand over the 3,000 ads it has identified to congressional investigators looking into the alleged Russian effort to influence last year’s election.

The president's shot was a reminder that, despite Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's efforts to expand his appeal by touring the country, he and his company are still regarded with distrust by many on the right.

Tim Graham, an analyst with the conservative Media Research Center, said that Zuckerberg is tainted in the eyes of many right-wing circles because he represents an industry known for its liberal leanings.

"I don't think it's any question that Zuckerberg is a Democrat and that he sees what he's doing as a progressive thing,” said Graham, who also edits the conservative outlet Newsbusters. “He's running a tech company in the San Francisco Bay area — I don't think it's unreasonable at all for Trump to say 'this guy is not for me.' "

Zuckerberg responded to Trump’s accusation on Wednesday afternoon, insisting that conflicting accusations from both sides of the spectrum show that the platform is impartial.

“Every day I work to bring people together and build a community for everyone,” Zuckerberg said in a post. “We hope to give all people a voice and create a platform for all ideas.”

“Trump says Facebook is against him,” he added. “Liberals say we helped Trump. Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don't like. That's what running a platform for all ideas looks like.”

Last year, Facebook faced similar accusations of liberal bias after Gizmodo reported that it had suppressed conservative news stories from its trending feature. Zuckerberg defused that uproar by meeting with a group of prominent conservatives and insisting that the platform has an interest in being fair toward conservatives.

But suspicion on the right — and high-profile flaps that have seen far-right activists lose their social media accounts — have pushed many to alternative social networks like Gab, a Twitter-style site popular with the alt-right.

"This notion that Zuckerberg is in the middle is totally mendacious, because everything his company has championed, everything that he has championed, has been to the detriment of conservatives at large,” Gab COO Utsav Sanduja said.

Sanduja pointed to emails between Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHow Democrats can defy the odds in 2022 Close the avenues of foreign meddling Pelosi planned on retiring until Trump won election: report MORE’s campaign manager and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, later published by WikiLeaks, in which Sandberg expressed support for Clinton.

Despite the tensions, Trump has largely refrained from attacking the social media giant. In fact, he’s credited Facebook and Twitter for helping him win the election by allowing him to deliver his message without the help of traditional media outlets. And the company’s rising stock prices over the past two years show that the controversies haven’t hurt their bottom lines significantly.

Still, there’s a growing movement among conservatives for tougher regulation of companies like Facebook and Google. Right-wing voices, including Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson and former White House adviser Stephen Bannon, have called for the companies to be regulated like public utilities.

“Conservatives should be fearful of Facebook, they should be very afraid that you have several giant corporations ... that all have one political opinion and are pushing that political opinion on the masses," Sanduja said.