As mounting criticism and a growing advertiser boycott forces Facebook to confront its relationship with the Trump administration, CEO Mark Zuckberg is becoming increasingly outspoken about denouncing President Donald Trump, telling Axios in an interview Monday that he and the president have “no deal of any kind” and criticizing administration policies in a company-wide Q&A.
- Zuckerberg has long been criticized for his apparent coziness with the Trump administration—including holding regular dinners with top conservatives and dining with Trump in October—and the New York Times reported in June that some believed he and Trump had “reach[ed] some kind of accommodation” during their meal.
- Zuckerberg told Axios those reports were “pretty ridiculous,” explaining that he speaks to Trump “from time to time” because he’s the president and noting that under the Trump administration, Facebook has faced “record fines,” antitrust investigations and has “been targeted by an executive order to strip protections in Section 230.”
- The Facebook CEO also “push[ed] back” against suggestions he was “too close” to the Trump administration in a recent company-wide Q&A reported on by Axios, saying he wanted to “separate out the fact of giving people some space for discourse, from the positions that we have individually.”
- Zuckerberg specifically denounced the Trump administration’s immigration policies, which he said are “unfair” and “put the country at a huge disadvantage going forward,” called pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord “a huge step back for the world” and criticized Trump’s “divisive and inflammatory rhetoric.”
- The Axios interview comes after Zuckerberg slammed the Trump administration’s coronavirus response in an interview last week with Dr. Anthony Fauci, particularly the administration’s failures on testing and undermining of public health experts like Fauci.
- A White House official told Axios that the president “has always respected Zuckerberg’s strong pro-First Amendment position” and that the CEO is “entitled to his position, as are the tens of millions of Trump supporters on Facebook.”
“I accepted the invite for dinner because I was in town and he is the president of the United States,” Zuckerberg told Axios about his dinner with Trump, citing his past “meals and meetings” with former President Barack Obama. “The fact that I met with a head of state should not be surprising, and does not suggest we have some kind of deal.”
The pandemic, racial justice protests and looming November election have put more pressure on Facebook than ever to address Zuckerberg’s relationship with Trump and the company’s willingness to host his rhetoric and other hate speech on their platform. Facebook’s much-maligned decision to leave up a recent post by Trump that appeared to encourage violence against racial justice protesters served as a catalyst for a widespread advertiser boycott against Facebook over its tolerance for hate speech. The boycott has attracted hundreds of businesses and organizations thus far, including reportedly The Walt Disney Company, which the Wall Street Journal reports has “dramatically slashed” its Facebook advertising after being the platform’s top U.S. advertiser in the first half of 2020. The Joe Biden campaign has also criticized Facebook for how it handles Trump’s posts ahead of the election, after a Washington Post investigation found that many of the company’s policies and its algorithm had been tailored to “accommodate” Trump and the GOP. The boycott and growing criticism has forced Facebook to take new actions against the Trump administration, including removing Trump-sponsored ads that included symbolism associated with Nazis and announcing it will now flag newsworthy posts—like those from the president—that violate its policies. The company’s response to the advertising boycott has so far still been insufficient to its organizers, however, who said after meeting with Zuckerberg that the CEO and company were “not yet ready to address the vitriolic hate on their platform.”