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Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservative politicians, pundits

Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservative politicians, pundits
© Greg Nash

Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergBipartisan attorneys general urge Facebook to scrap planned Instagram for kids Hillicon Valley: Broadband companies funded fake net neutrality comments, investigation finds | Twitter rolls out tip feature | Google to adopt 'hybrid work week' Oversight Board achieving what government cannot MORE defended himself on Monday afternoon after receiving pushback over a report that he has recently held a string of private meetings with conservative politicians, pundits and journalists.

Behind closed doors over the past several months, Politico reported, Zuckerberg has been meeting with top GOP figures, including Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP governors move to cut unemployment benefits as debate rages over effects Trump critics push new direction for GOP Graham warns about trying to 'drive' Trump from GOP: 'Half the people will leave' MORE (R-S.C.), Fox News host Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonOvernight Health Care: Biden announces 1M have enrolled in special ObamaCare sign-up period | Rand Paul clashes with Fauci over coronavirus origins | Biden vows to get 'more aggressive' on lifestyle benefits of vaccines McCarthy rental from Luntz violated condo rules: Washington Post Tucker Carlson's show does dramatic reading of Stacey Abrams romance novel MORE and conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt. 

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The meetings, many of which have reportedly taken place in Zuckerberg's California homes, reportedly addressed issues such as allegations that Facebook routinely censors right-wing voices, claims for which there is little evidence and that Facebook has vehemently denied.

"There's some press today discussing dinners I've had with conservative politicians, media and thinkers," Zuckerberg posted on Facebook following Politico's report. "To be clear, I have had dinners with lots of people across the spectrum on lots of different issues all the time."

"Meeting new people and hearing from a wide range of viewpoints is part of learning," Zuckerberg added. "If you haven't tried it, I suggest you do!" 

According to Politico, the dinner attendees have also included commentator Ben Shapiro, a fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, and Fox News contributor Byron York. 

A senior Trump administration official told Politico, "The White House is looking for meaningful steps from Facebook on a number of fronts" and cited “competition, free speech for everybody including conservatives, and privacy. Nominal outreach won’t cut it." 

Over three days in September, Zuckerberg came to Washington, D.C., to meet with a several of his toughest critics in Congress. The embattled CEO held a private dinner with Democrats arranged by Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerBiden signs executive order to improve federal cybersecurity Overnight Defense: Former Pentagon chief to testify about Capitol riot Wednesday | Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move Wyden: Funding infrastructure with gas tax hike a 'big mistake' MORE (D-Va.), met with Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellThis week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning Will Biden's NASA win the space race with China? Bill Nelson is a born-again supporter of commercial space at NASA MORE (D-Wash.), and huddled with the House lawmakers investigating Facebook and other big tech companies for antitrust violations.

He also dedicated a full day to meetings with Republicans, including Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyNYPD Asian Hate Crimes Task Force chief: Attacks are 'not new' More than 75 Asian, LGBTQ groups oppose anti-Asian crime bill Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan MORE (R-Mo.), Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Opposition to refugees echoes one of America's most shameful moments White House defends CDC outreach to teachers union MORE (R-Ark.), Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Energy: Colonial Pipeline says it has restored full service | Biden urges people not to panic about gasoline shortages | EPA rescinds Trump-era cost-benefit rule Senate panel advances Biden's deputy Interior pick Hillicon Valley: Global cybersecurity leaders say they feel unprepared for attack | Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan | Senate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech MORE (R-Utah) and several top Republicans in the House.

The meetings were described as a listening tour, offering Zuckerberg a chance to hear directly from lawmakers, many of whom are working on legislation that could directly impact Facebook's business.

As part of his D.C. visit, Zuckerberg met with President TrumpDonald TrumpVirginia GOP gubernatorial nominee acknowledges Biden was 'legitimately' elected Biden meets with DACA recipients on immigration reform Overnight Health Care: States begin lifting mask mandates after new CDC guidance | Walmart, Trader Joe's will no longer require customers to wear masks | CDC finds Pfizer, Moderna vaccines 94 percent effective in health workers MORE in the Oval Office, a meeting that both parties described in positive terms. 

The tech executive is set to return to Washington, D.C., later this month when he testifies before the House Financial Services Committee about Facebook's new digital currency project, Libra. 

His meetings with Republicans come as the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice are ramping up investigations into Big Tech's market power, weighing whether companies, including Facebook, have violated the country's antitrust laws.

“The discussion in Silicon Valley is that Zuckerberg is very concerned about the Justice Department, under [Attorney General William] Barr, bringing an enforcement action to break up the company,” one former government official told Politico.