Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservative politicians, pundits

Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservative politicians, pundits
© Greg Nash

Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — NFL social media accounts hacked | Dem questions border chief over controversial Facebook group | Clinton says Zuckerberg has 'authoritarian' views Clinton says Zuckerberg has 'authoritarian' views on misinformation Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — UN calls for probe into alleged Saudi hack of Bezos | Experts see effort to 'silence' Washington Post | Bezos tweets tribute to Khashoggi 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 confident of win on witnesses GOP Foreign Affairs leaders join pushback against potential troop drawdown in Africa Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight MORE (R-S.C.), Fox News host Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonMegyn Kelly, Bill Maher agree on 'Real Time': 'The media's so messed up right now' Gabbard tells Fox that Clinton's 'Russian asset' remark is 'taking my life away' Megyn Kelly to appear on Bill Maher's 'Real Time' on Friday 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 WarnerLawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision Democrats worry Trump team will cherry-pick withheld documents during defense Commerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  MORE (D-Va.), met with Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHillicon Valley: UK allows Huawei to build 5G in blow to Trump | Lawmakers warn decision threatens intel sharing | Work on privacy bill inches forward | Facebook restricts travel to China amid virus Lawmakers claim progress on online privacy bill Senators fret over lack of manpower to build 5G 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 HawleyLawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision GOP senator plans to ask about Bidens, whistleblower in impeachment trial Overnight Health Care: Trump becomes first sitting president to attend March for Life | Officials confirm second US case of coronavirus | Trump officials threaten California funding over abortion law MORE (R-Mo.), Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonOvernight Health Care — Presented by Philip Morris International — HHS has no plans to declare emergency over coronavirus | GOP senator calls for travel ban to stop outbreak | Warren releases plan to contain infectious diseases Hillicon Valley: UK allows Huawei to build 5G in blow to Trump | Lawmakers warn decision threatens intel sharing | Work on privacy bill inches forward | Facebook restricts travel to China amid virus Lawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision MORE (R-Ark.), Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe self-fulfilling Iran prophecy No patriotic poll bump for Trump, but Soleimani strike may still help him politically Senators are politicians, not jurors — they should act like it 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 TrumpCNN's Don Lemon explains handling of segment after Trump criticism NPR reporter after Pompeo clash: Journalists don't interview government officials to score 'political points' Lawyer says Parnas can't attend Senate trial due to ankle bracelet 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.