Zuckerberg, in leaked audio, vows to 'fight' efforts to break up Facebook if Warren wins White House

Zuckerberg, in leaked audio, vows to 'fight' efforts to break up Facebook if Warren wins White House
© Aaron Schwartz

During an internal meeting at Facebook this summer, CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergThere are poor ideas, bad ones and Facebook's Libra Facebook announces new payment service Computer software pioneer John McAfee rips Facebook's Libra project MORE vowed to “fight” any efforts to break up his company, according to audio leaked by The Verge.

When an employee asked Zuckerberg about the rise of presidential candidates like Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment MORE (D-Mass.), who has proposed breaking up Big Tech, the tech executive said he was not afraid of a “legal challenge,” according to a transcript of the leaked audio.

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“I mean, if she gets elected president, then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge,” Zuckerberg said.

“And does that still suck for us?” he added. “Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government. ... But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.”

In the two hours of leaked audio from a pair of employee meetings obtained by The Verge, Zuckerberg also spoke candidly about the complications around Facebook’s new digital currency, Libra, as well as why he believes it’s important for the company to work with the U.S. government to put in place some regulations.

“I at least believe, I think, there are real issues,” Zuckerberg said, according to the transcript. “I don’t think that the antitrust remedies are going to solve them. But I understand that if we don’t help address those issues and help put in place a regulatory framework where people feel like there’s real accountability, and the government can govern our sector, then yeah, people are just going to keep on getting angrier and angrier.” 

Zuckerberg made the comments as Facebook has been working with congressional offices to develop a federal privacy law, but those efforts have stalled over the past several months. 

“And they’re going to demand more extreme measures, and, eventually, people just say, ‘Screw it, take a hammer to the whole thing,’” Zuckerberg said.

The leaked audio was recorded more than a month before Zuckerberg visited lawmakers on Capitol Hill in August, his first visit to the nation’s capital since he testified in a pair of confrontational public hearings in 2018. During the visit, Zuckerberg declined to answer questions from reporters but met privately with a number of his top critics in Congress.

The audio offers some insight into what Zuckerberg has been telling critics and fellow Facebook executives behind closed doors.

Zuckerberg said “public things,” like the congressional hearings with Facebook’s head of Libra, David Marcus, “tend to be a little more dramatic.”

“But a bigger part of it is private engagement with regulators around the world, and those, I think, often are more substantive and less dramatic,” Zuckerberg said. “And those meetings aren’t being played for the camera, but that’s where a lot of the discussions and details get hashed out on things.”

Facebook has pledged that it will not launch Libra until the company has worked with governments to resolve the regulatory concerns around the coin.

Compared to other top tech executives, Zuckerberg typically stays out of the limelight and does not offer many public comments.

The pair of employee meetings also took place after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced it had settled a record-shattering $5 billion fine with Facebook, and Libra’s Marcus had testified before House and Senate lawmakers.

Much of the ire Facebook has faced from lawmakers over the past year has revolved around its failure to stave off election interference by foreign actors during the 2016 presidential elections. Russian trolls were able to successfully flood Facebook and its image-sharing platform Instagram with divisive content without any intervention by Facebook for months.

In the audio, Zuckerberg said Facebook’s size enables the company to invest in resources to protect user safety, a line Facebook has touted publicly.

“It’s just that breaking up these companies, whether it’s Facebook or Google or Amazon, is not actually going to solve the issues,” Zuckerberg said. “And, you know, it doesn’t make election interference less likely. It makes it more likely because now the companies can’t coordinate and work together.”

Zuckerberg continued in the audio, swiping at a competitor, “It’s why Twitter can’t do as good of a job as we can.”

“Our investment on safety is bigger than the whole revenue of their company,” he added, to laughter from the audience of employees.

--Read more from The Hill:

Elizabeth Warren slams Facebook in response to leaked Zuckerberg audio