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Facebook’s bipartisan hostility with Democrats increasing

Facebook's image is worsens in Washington

For months, bipartisan hostility to Facebook has been building, fuelled by a series of scandals, the role of the site in Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, and accusations that Facebook is crushing competitors.

Now, with the upcoming 2020 elections, Democrats are particularly homing in on the social media giant’s behaviour and its refusal to check political ads and remove fake ones.

“When you’re the monopoly No. 1, people will come after you,” says veteran Republican communications strategist John Feehery. The Democrats ‘ challenge as he sees it: “They face an outraged and restive base. So in taking on companies, we have to be much more militant. “Zuckerberg maintained a friendly relationship with the Obama administration. But the upstart’s co-founder, born under the motto “Move fast and break things,” is learning the art of smoothing over and piecing back together in the face of growing public outrage.

His new strategy is a campaign tour involving frequent private meetings in Congress with influential politicians from both parties and President Donald Trump; intimate, off-the-record meals with prominent reporters and opinion-makers at his California home; and an odd public address or television interview.

Speaking to Democratic lawmakers and civil rights groups criticising Facebook’s track record on combating discrimination, Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg planned to host a dinner with civil rights leaders on Monday night. The two executives wanted to hear “strong input and suggestions” from the founders, the organisation said.

Rev. Al Sharpton said last week that he and others would visit Zuckerberg and discuss issues such as the processing of political messages through Facebook. Misinformation on the internet could relate to African-Americans and other minorities ‘ repression of elections, claim advocates for civil rights.

Zuckerberg has become a lobbyist-in-chief for a tech giant who formally performs the position with about 60 staff. The company spent last year on political control an additional $12.6 million.

Democrats’ political ad issue hits near home. In September, Facebook, along with Twitter and Google, declined to remove a misleading video ad from Trump’s re-election campaign targeting Top-tier Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Another top Democratic contender, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, chose to hit back by running her ad and making it personal by falsely claiming Zuckerberg had endorsed Trump by 2020.

Warren, who called for Facebook and other tech giants to break up, admitted the deliberate falsity of the commercial to prove her case.

Then came last month’s speech by Zuckerberg at Georgetown University in which he promoted free expression as the foundation for Facebook’s refusal to take down content that it considers newsworthy, even though the material breaches company standards. Next week, during Democratic lawmakers ‘ sharp questioning at a televised House hearing, Zuckerberg dug into non-fact-checking speech by politicians and handling hate speech and potential incentives for violence.

“This is not really about money,” insisted Zuckerberg. “It’s important for people to see what politicians are saying for themselves,” Facebook says political advertising accounts for less than half of 1% of total revenue.

Facebook has policies and improved technology separately from political advertising, which it says now allows it to detect terrorist content more efficiently in many languages. For example, following last spring’s mass shooting in New Zealand, Facebook now bans live streaming by people who have breached rules that cover organisations and individuals considered dangerous and potentially violent.

Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio, Congressional Black Caucus vice president, focused on Facebook’s track record on civil rights and diversity in the Democrats ‘ lambasting. She claimed Zuckerberg has “ruined other people’s lives, discriminated against them.” As part of a legal agreement with civil rights groups, this year, Facebook modified its ad-targeting systems to prevent discrimination in housing, credit, and job ads. It had previously allowed these advertisements to target people, which is unconstitutional, based on age, sex or race.

At some times, the House Financial Services Committee’s welcoming Republican leaders told Zuckerberg how he was holding up through the six-hour meeting. “I’m doing OK,” said the co-founder, chairman and CEO of the 35-year-old. He is one of the wealthiest people in the world, with a net worth estimated at $71 billion at the moment.

In summary, California Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters, who leads the committee, said to Zuckerberg, “You’ve opened a discussion about whether Facebook should be broken up.” A mandated breakup would be the worst-case scenario for Facebook and other big tech firms. Facebook says splitting up big tech companies will leave the election system more open to manipulation if firms couldn’t operate together to stop it.

“It may be a nasty divorce for Zuckerberg and the Democrats,” said James Thurber, a government professor at American University who founded his Congressional and Presidential Studies Center. “He’s taken a stand that’s very controversial.” Thurber found Zuckerberg’s secret celebrity strategy to “quite risky” lobbying efforts. “When you feel you can do it yourself, you have to be very cautious about that,” he said.

Rep. David Cicilline, a prominent House Democrat who chairs the review of the Judiciary Committee into big tech firms ‘ market dominance, is focusing on legislation that can restrict Facebook’s revenue from political advertisements that it believes were incorrect. The plan will presumably only extend to Facebook and Google’s social media competitors.

Twitter made the abrupt October 30 statement that it would suspend all of its service’s political advertising.

“It’s a good first step,” tweeted Cicilline. “Your move, Google / Facebook.” Zuckerberg’s quick response was to reaffirm the company’s commitment to the value of free speech, including for politicians, during Facebook’s quarterly call for earnings.

It’s a dramatic turnaround of Facebook’s luck from the Obama administration days when the company was celebrated as an emblem of technology and a driver for economic growth. Campaign money has poured from big tech companies to the Democrats.

In April 2011, at a town hall of workers at Silicon Valley headquarters in Facebook, President Barack Obama said: “My name is Barack Obama, and I’m the guy who got Mark to wear a jacket and tie.” When they unison stripped jackets and ties and rolled up their shirt sleeves, Obama was excited, “It’s so fun for me to be here on Facebook. You people are on the cutting edge of what’s going on.

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