Leaked Zuckerberg Audio Reveals Facebook's Plan to Sue the U.S. Government If Elizabeth Warren Tries to Break Up Big Tech

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaves a meeting with Republican Senator John Cornyn on Capitol Hill on September 19, 2019
Photo: Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg is fully prepared to sue the federal government if someone like Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren tries to break up Facebook into smaller companies, according to audio recordings obtained by the Verge. Warren has made breaking up Big Tech a signature promise of her presidential campaign.

The audio recordings, which were not intended for public consumption, are reportedly from two meetings in July that were structured as Q&A sessions between Zuckerberg, the company’s CEO, and Facebook employees.

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Zuck talks about everything from the tech giant’s $5 billion settlement with the FTC to its upcoming digital currency Libra, but arguably the most interesting insight from the leaked audio is that Facebook is going to use everything they’ve got to fight antitrust regulators and Elizabeth Warren, should she win the presidency. Zuckerberg makes it clear that the company is not going to be broken up without a messy war in Washington.

From a transcript of the audio recording obtained by the Verge:

So there might be a political movement where people are angry at the tech companies or are worried about concentration or worried about different issues and worried that they’re not being handled well. That doesn’t mean that, even if there’s anger and that you have someone like Elizabeth Warren who thinks that the right answer is to break up the companies ... I mean, if she gets elected president, then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge. And does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government. I mean, that’s not the position that you want to be in when you’re, you know, I mean … it’s like, we care about our country and want to work with our government and do good things. But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.

Warren would like Facebook to spin off companies that it purchased, including WhatsApp and Instagram. And Warren has repeatedly argued that companies like Facebook have too much influence, not only in the lives of individual users but also in the halls of our nation’s capital. Big Tech spends enormous amounts of money to influence legislation in their favor, and Warren has had enough.

“Today’s big tech companies have too much power—too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy,” Warren said in a post first published on Medium back in March. “They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation.”

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She’s right, of course. But Zuckerberg contends that the only way to fight bad things on the internet is by having large corporations use their considerable resources.

Zuck continued a little later in the Q&A (emphasis his):

And, you know, it doesn’t make election interference less likely. It makes it more likely because now the companies can’t coordinate and work together. It doesn’t make any of the hate speech or issues like that less likely. It makes it more likely because now ... all the processes that we’re putting in place and investing in, now we’re more fragmented.

It’s why Twitter can’t do as good of a job as we can. I mean, they face, qualitatively, the same types of issues. But they can’t put in the investment. Our investment on safety is bigger than the whole revenue of their company. [laughter] And yeah, we’re operating on a bigger scale, but it’s not like they face qualitatively different questions. They have all the same types of issues that we do.

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After the Verge published the leaked audio, Warren responded on Twitter by effectively accusing Facebook of illegal practices and damaging democracy.

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The Verge has some select audio clips if you want to hear Zuck in his own voice, including more on Facebook’s challenges with content moderation and pressure from other apps like TikTok.

Facebook did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment on Tuesday morning. We’ll update this post if they get back to us.

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Update, 1:14 pm ET: Facebook just sent Gizmodo a post from Mark Zuckerberg about the Q&A session:

Every week I do a Q&A at Facebook where employees get to ask me anything and I share openly what I’m thinking on all kinds of projects and issues. The transcript from one of my Q&As a few months ago just got published online — and even though it was meant to be internal rather than public, now that it’s out there, you can check it out if you’re interested in seeing an unfiltered version of what I’m thinking and telling employees on a bunch of topics like social responsibility, breaking up tech companies, Libra, neural computing interfaces, and doing the right thing over the long term.

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Facebook did not directly address the fact that it seems ready to go to war with Senator Elizabeth Warren.

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About the author

Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog