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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 ZuckerbergLou Dobbs goes after Lindsey Graham: 'I don't know why anyone' would vote for him  Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Hillicon Valley: Five takeaways on new election interference from Iran, Russia | Schumer says briefing on Iranian election interference didn't convince him effort was meant to hurt Trump | Republicans on Senate panel subpoena Facebook, Twitter CEOs | 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 GrahamGraham dismisses criticism from Fox Business's Lou Dobbs Texas and North Carolina: Democrats on the verge? Trump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report MORE (R-S.C.), Fox News host Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonTrump when asked if he'd be kinder in his second term: 'Yes, I think so' Greenwald slams Schiff over Biden emails on Fox The Memo: Trump searches for path to comeback 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 WarnerSenate Intel leadership urges American vigilance amid foreign election interference Intel officials say Iran, Russia seeking to influence election Senate Intel leaders warn of election systems threats MORE (D-Va.), met with Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellDemocrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein Hillicon Valley: Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives | Amazon says over 19,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19 | Democrats demand DHS release report warning of election interference Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives 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 HawleyInfrastructure, energy investments urgently needed to create U.S. jobs Justice Department charges Google with illegally maintaining search monopoly Conservatives seize on New York Post story to push Section 230 reform MORE (R-Mo.), Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonCotton mocks NY Times over claim of nonpartisanship, promises to submit op-eds as test Barrett fight puts focus on abortion in 2020 election COVID outbreak threatens GOP's Supreme Court plans MORE (R-Ark.), Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeePence adviser Marty Obst tests positive for COVID-19 Two Loeffler staffers test positive for COVID-19 End the American military presence in Somalia 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 John TrumpFox News president, top anchors advised to quarantine after coronavirus exposure: report Six notable moments from Trump and Biden's '60 Minutes' interviews Biden on attacks on mental fitness: Trump thought '9/11 attack was 7/11 attack' 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.