In what is surely a horrific preview of what we have to look forward to during the 2020 presidential debates, Mark Zuckerberg and Donald Trump are fighting on the internet.
Trump accused Facebook of being “anti-Trump” this morning and now Zuckerberg is firing back, saying that making Trump and liberals angry at the same time is good, actually. Zuckerberg’s post is a largely defensive diatribe with a quick apology tossed in at the end for that one time when he said those who believe fake news is a problem on his platform are crazy—an apology that he still argues isn’t necessary.
“After the election, I made a comment that I thought the idea misinformation on Facebook changed the outcome of the election was a crazy idea. Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it. This is too important an issue to be dismissive,” Zuckerberg wrote.
Zuckerberg’s “crazy” comment, delivered the day after Trump’s election, has haunted him for months and has been dragged back into the spotlight as Congress investigates how Russian misinformation campaigns operated on Facebook.
But the truly crazy thing is that Zuckerberg hasn’t changed his mind over the last year. Even though his own security team discovered a coordinated campaign by trolls with ties to the Russian government spreading misinformation on the platform, even though special counsel Robert Mueller is compelling the company to comply with his investigation, even though Congress is calling for new legislation to regulate the way Facebook handles political advertising, and even though Zuckerberg himself sat down for a Facebook Live broadcast less than a week ago to reassure the public about how seriously he takes election interference, Zuckerberg still apparently believes that fake news and misinformation is no big deal.
“The data we have has always shown that our broader impact—from giving people a voice to enabling candidates to communicate directly to helping millions of people vote—played a far bigger role in this election,” he protested. “The facts suggest the greatest role Facebook played in the 2016 election was different from what most are saying.”
It’s essentially the exact same argument that Zuckerberg made the day after the election—that Facebook’s internal data, which the company has largely declined to make public, indicates fake news and foreign-bought political ads never reached enough users to make a difference.
Zuckerberg’s comments are disheartening and disingenuous, and they undercut his promises last week that he would finally start taking election interference campaigns on Facebook seriously. After nearly a year of evidence to the contrary, Zuckerberg is still arguing the same point that earned him such heated criticism. It’s time to stop.