Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservative politicians, pundits

Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservative politicians, pundits
© Greg Nash

Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day A book can explain why Elizabeth Warren's ideas bother billionaires so much Facebook says it removed millions of posts over hate speech, child exploitation violations 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 senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Graham: Senate trial 'must expose the whistleblower' Graham says Schiff should be a witness in Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-S.C.), Fox News host Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonCBS employee fired for allegedly leaking Robach hot mic clip denies she leaked the tape Megyn Kelly teases interview with woman reportedly fired after leak of hot mic Epstein video Former AG Sessions enters Alabama Senate race 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 WarnerHillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Microsoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate Google sparks new privacy fears over health care data MORE (D-Va.), met with Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellMicrosoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate Senators introduce cybersecurity workforce expansion bill Boeing chief faces anger over 737 crashes at hearing 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 HawleyTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition GOP senator wants to know whistleblower identity if there's an impeachment trial Hillicon Valley: California AG reveals Facebook investigation | McConnell criticizes Twitter's political ad ban | Lawmakers raise concerns over Google takeover of Fitbit | Dem pushes FCC to secure 5G networks MORE (R-Mo.), Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonTom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas Schumer concerned by Army's use of TikTok, other Chinese social media platforms Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising MORE (R-Ark.), Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeFed chief urges Congress to expand US workforce while economy still strong On The Money: Retirement savings bill blocked in Senate after fight over amendments | Stopgap bill may set up December spending fight | Hardwood industry pleads for relief from Trump trade war Retirement bill blocked in Senate amid fight over amendments 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 TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 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.