Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservative politicians, pundits

Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservative politicians, pundits
© Greg Nash

Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Trump, telecom executives talk coronavirus response | Pelosi pushes funding for mail-in voting | New York AG wants probe into firing of Amazon worker | Marriott hit by another massive breach As misinformation surges, coronavirus poses AI challenge Zuckerberg, Gates team up to contribute M for research into coronavirus treatments 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 asks colleagues to support call for China to close wet markets Justice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Trump says he's considering restricting travel to coronavirus 'hot spots' MORE (R-S.C.), Fox News host Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonIs the coronavirus igniting a war of all against all? 74 journalism professors accuse Fox News of spreading coronavirus misinformation Wake up, America, it's profits over people to some 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 WarnerDemocrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog Trump fires intelligence community watchdog who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Hillicon Valley: Thousands of Zoom recordings exposed online | Google shares location data to counter virus | Dem senator pushes jobless benefits for gig workers | Twitter takes down 20,000 fake accounts MORE (D-Va.), met with Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellMcConnell sets Friday night deadline for bipartisan deal on stimulus Washington state lawmakers warn health workers running low on protective gear Carper staffer tests positive in Delaware 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 HawleyHawley unveils initiative to rehire workers laid off during coronavirus crisis, bolster domestic production Lawmakers press IRS to get coronavirus checks to seniors Democrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus MORE (R-Mo.), Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonTrump's ambitious infrastructure vision faces Senate GOP roadblock  GOP lawmaker touts bill prohibiting purchases of drugs made in China Wisconsin Republican says US must not rely on China for critical supplies MORE (R-Ark.), Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeJustice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Senator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Trump on Romney's negative coronavirus test: 'I am so happy I can barely speak' 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 TrumpCampaigns face attack ad dilemma amid coronavirus crisis Outgoing inspector general says Trump fired him for carrying out his 'legal obligations' Trump hits Illinois governor after criticism: 'I hear him complaining all the time' 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.