Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is mostly in the news today for an unflattering photograph of him taken while surfing, slathered in Marilyn Manson-esque levels of sunscreen paired with an unsettlingly perky ass. In what may well have been an attempt to change Google results for his name to anything else, Zuckerberg somehow managed to switch the topic to how he definitely doesn’t have a special arrangement with the president.
In an interview with Axios, Zuckerberg expressly denied that he had reached some kind of underhanded deal at an undisclosed meeting last year with Donald Trump and venture capitalist Peter Thiel to boost Trump’s re-election campaign in exchange for political favors. Those rumors were the subject of a recent New York Times article, which noted that the White House has regularly given the appearance of treating Facebook preferentially compared to other tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Twitter—more often the focus of Trump’s conspiracy theories and hamfisted executive orders. That just so happens to coincide with Zuckerberg allowing politicians to lie in ads with impunity and twisting himself into a human pretzel to justify Trump’s use of Facebook to issue threats against protesters and spread conspiracy theories.
“I’ve heard this speculation, too, so let me be clear: There’s no deal of any kind,” Zuckerberg told Axios. “Actually, the whole idea of a deal is pretty ridiculous.”
“I do speak with the president from time to time, just like I spoke with our last president and political leaders around the world,” Zuckerberg added of the completely relatable and normal experience. “... The fact that I met with a head of state should not be surprising, and does not suggest we have some kind of deal.”
Zuckerberg also took the opportunity to tout his personal opposition to some of Trump’s policies and rhetoric but that he believes “in giving people a voice, even when I disagree with them. I believe in a broad definition of free expression, especially around political speech—but those are my principles and I don’t think that’s a surprise to anyone.”
Well, just ask yourself: Would Mark Zuckerberg lie?
A confidential Trump-Zuckerberg concordat would require two of the shiftiest men on the planet to shake hands and openly the discuss the terms of what could have simply be left an implicit arrangement. While at least one of the men in the room is absolutely reckless and indiscreet enough to do that, this seems rather unlikely.
“Secret deal” would be a stretch, though, as it would only formalize an already obvious, comparatively friendly relationship between Facebook and the White House to take advantage of each others’ political influence. Trump’s campaign is able to leverage the way Facebook’s ad network functions and its half-assed policies on political misinformation to juice his propaganda machine, with apparently few limits other than literal Holocaust iconography. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg’s well-documented efforts to steer policy in a direction favorable to conservatives and build influence with right-wingers have helped it hedge its regulatory risk (as long as Republicans remain in power, anyway) and avoid Trump-related headaches.
Nor is all this particularly clever; it’s generated backlash, including an advertiser boycott demanding stricter policies on hate speech, outrage from Zuckerberg’s own staff, and an angry response from the presumptive Democratic nominee. As TechCrunch noted, Zuckerberg has been somewhat more willing to criticize Trump and his administration in recent days, though he may have been emboldened by the president’s plummeting poll numbers as much as anything else. If Republicans fail to reverse the trend by November, it’s a fair bet that whatever Zuckerberg’s conception of free speech means for Facebook policies will abruptly evolve.
But no worries: while political winds might shift at any time, the mental image of that ass will last forever.