Some powerful figures on the left appear eager to spread the word that Facebook intends to swing the outcome of the 2020 election in Trump’s favor. Speaking at an event in Davos this Thursday, George Soros said, “Facebook will work together to re-elect Trump, and Trump will work to protect Facebook so that this situation cannot be changed and it makes me very concerned about the outcome for 2020.” Today, Hillary Clinton echoed that concern, comparing Mark Zuckerberg to a foreign power and saying she believes he intends to help reelect Trump:
When I asked Clinton today whether she too sees a Trumpian quality in Zuckerberg’s reasoning, she nodded. “It’s Trumpian,” she said. “It’s authoritarian.”…
Clinton’s allusions to Zuckerberg as a world leader are fitting. “I feel like you’re negotiating with a foreign power sometimes,” she said, referencing conversations she’s had “at the highest levels” with Facebook. “He’s immensely powerful,” she told me. “This is a global company that has huge influence in ways that we’re only beginning to understand.”
Facebook is, in a sense, the world’s first technocratic nation-state—a real-time experiment in connecting humans at massive and unprecedented scale, with a population of users that eclipses any actual nation, nearly as big as China and India combined. It’s also an institution with gigantic levers at its disposal to affect the lives of its user-citizens. Facebook knows this. It has played with manipulating people’s emotions. It has trumpeted its ability to affect the outcome of an election. There’s good reason to believe, Clinton said, that Facebook is “not just going to reelect Trump, but intend[s] to reelect Trump.”
As I said the other day when I wrote about Soros’ statement, this sounds like a conspiracy theory to me. Neither Soros nor Clinton have offered any evidence that Zuckerberg intends to do anything internally to help Trump. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago a leaked memo from a Facebook executive made the case that while the company could in theory sway an election against Trump the company should resist that urge:
To be clear, I’m no fan of Trump. I donated the max to Hillary. After his election I wrote a post about Trump supporters that I’m told caused colleagues who had supported him to feel unsafe around me (I regret that post and deleted shortly after)…
As a committed liberal I find myself desperately wanting to pull any lever at my disposal to avoid the same result. So what stays my hand?
I find myself thinking of the Lord of the Rings at this moment. Specifically when Frodo offers the ring to Galadrial and she imagines using the power righteously, at first, but knows it will eventually corrupt her. As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear.
Where is Hillary getting the idea that a leading tech company is eager to elect Trump? As far as I can tell this is coming from three specific things. First, there was the Russian use of Facebook during the 2016 elections. That spending amounted to a tiny drop in the bucked compared to the money Hillary’s campaign spent but Hillary spent months during her book tour flogging the idea that Russian interference (along with more than a dozen other things) cost her the election. So I think despite the reality that this wasn’t terribly significant, many Democrats have it in their minds that the Russian campaign on Facebook may have determined the outcome.
Second, there was a leaked audio in October in which Zuckerberg was heard saying this about Elizabeth Warren, “if she gets elected president, then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge.” He added, “if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.” I think many on the left hear this and assume Zuckerberg means ‘We need to use Facebook to ensure Warren loses the election’ which is not remotely what he said or fair to what he said. He was talking about fighting any effort to break up the company in court. Zuckerberg probably has a small army of lawyers and lobbyists he can deploy to fight efforts to break up his company and he’s saying he would use them if needed. But obviously if he were planning to sway the election, he’d have no reason to worry about a court fight since it would never come to that.
Third, there has been an ongoing battle over Facebook’s policy on truth in political advertising. Zuckerberg has refused to say he would remove content with false information. Instead, he has said he would use fact-checkers to provide additional information to show that content in the ad was false without removing it. In short, the solution to bad speech is more speech. That seems like a good approach to me but as you may have noticed many on the left are not as fond of this approach to speech as they used to be. The problem for political figures who share Hillary’s concern is that Dems in Congress can’t pass a law or otherwise order Facebook to do as they wish. That would be censorship and unconstitutional.
So Dems are in this uncomfortable position where a significant portion of the culture is not completely under their control. They aren’t used to that. They own Hollywood, television, the music industry, book publishing, the theater, the arts, the news media, universities, etc. Pretty much everything outside of Fox News and talk radio is culturally on the left. But Facebook isn’t playing along and the left does not like it.
What Hillary and many others on the left want, I believe, is for Facebook to aggressively and reflexively dump on their opponents the way Hollywood effectively stamps out most conservative messages. Since Facebook isn’t going along, Zuckerberg is becoming the new Koch brothers, i.e. a powerful figure the left can point to as an avowed enemy. Hillary seems to be spurring that along by suggesting Zuckerberg is, essentially, a foreign dictator. I suspect the left will keep ratcheting up the pressure until Zuckerberg caves.
But if you think about it, this isn’t a very smart strategy. If you think Zuckerberg is worried about the far left (like Warren) going after his company, then having figures like Clinton and Soros turn him into a cultural outcast probably only proves to him that he was right to be worried.