Bipartisan hostility against Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg has been building for months. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Bipartisan hostility against Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg has been building for months. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

From toast of town to toxic: Facebook CEO on outs with Dems

WASHINGTON — Mark Zuckerberg’s social network in Washington is shrinking.

Bipartisan hostility against Facebook has been building for months, fueled by a series of privacy scandals, the site’s role in Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign and accusations that Facebook crushes competitors.

Now, with the 2020 elections approaching, Democrats especially are homing in on the conduct of the social media giant and its refusal to fact-check political ads and remove false ones.

“When you’re the No. 1 monopoly, people are going to come after you,” says John Feehery, a veteran Republican communications strategist. The challenge for Democrats, as he sees it: “They’re facing a base that is very angry and restive. So they have to be much more aggressive in taking on corporations.”

Zuckerberg enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Obama administration. But in the face of growing public outrage, the co-founder of the upstart born under the motto “Move fast and break things” is learning the art of smoothing over and piecing back together.

His new strategy: a personal blitz featuring serial private meetings in Washington with key lawmakers of both parties and President Donald Trump; small, off-the-record dinners at his California home with conservative journalists and opinion makers; and the occasional public address or TV interview.

He’s become lobbyist-in-chief for a tech giant that has about 60 people officially playing that role. The company spent an estimated $12.6 million on federal influencing last year.

The political ad issue hits close to home for Democrats. Facebook, as well as Twitter and Google, refused in September to remove a misleading video ad from Trump’s reelection campaign that targeted top-tier Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another top Democratic contender, chose to hit back by running her own ad and making it personal by falsely claiming that Zuckerberg had endorsed Trump for 2020.

Warren, who has called for breaking up Facebook and other tech giants, acknowledged the ad’s deliberate falsity to make her point.

Then came Zuckerberg’s speech last month at Georgetown University in which he promoted free expression as the foundation for Facebook’s refusal to take down content it deems newsworthy, even if the material violates company standards. The next week, during prickly questioning by Democratic lawmakers at a televised House hearing, Zuckerberg dug in on not fact-checking politicians’ speech and the handling of hate speech and potential incitements to violence.

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

In the lambasting from Democrats, Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio, the vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, focused on Facebook’s track record on civil rights and diversity. She told Zuckerberg that he had “ruined the lives of many people, discriminated against them.”

As part of a legal settlement with civil rights groups, Facebook changed its ad-targeting systems this year to prevent discrimination in housing, credit and employment ads. It had previously allowed such ads to be targeted to people based on age, sex or race, which is illegal.

At some points, friendlier Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee asked Zuckerberg how he was holding up through the six-hour hearing. “I’m doing OK,” replied the 35-year-old co-founder, chairman and CEO. He’s one of the world’s richest individuals, with a net worth currently estimated at $71 billion.

Summing up, Rep. Maxine Waters, the California Democrat who leads the committee, told Zuckerberg, “You have opened up a discussion about whether Facebook should be broken up.”

A mandated breakup would be the worst-case scenario for Facebook and the other big tech companies. Facebook says splitting up large tech corporations would make the election system more vulnerable to interference because the companies wouldn’t be able to work together to prevent it.

For Zuckerberg and the Democrats, “it may be a nasty divorce,” said James Thurber, a professor of government at American University who founded its Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. “He clearly has taken a stand that’s really quite unpopular.”

Thurber called Zuckerberg’s backstage celebrity approach to lobbying efforts “very dangerous.” ”You’ve got to be very careful about that, if you think you can do it yourself,” he said.

Rep. David Cicilline, a senior House Democrat who leads the Judiciary Committee’s investigation into the market dominance of big tech companies, is working on legislation that may target the profits made by Facebook from political ads it knows are false. The measure likely would also apply to social media rivals Twitter and Google.

On Thursday, Twitter made the unexpected announcement that it will ban all political advertising from its service.

“This is a good first step,” Cicilline tweeted. “Your move, Google/Facebook.”

Zuckerberg’s quick riposte, during Facebook’s quarterly conference call on earnings , was to reaffirm the company’s commitment to the value of free speech, including for politicians.

It’s a sharp reversal of fortune for Facebook from the days of the Obama administration, when the company was hailed as an exemplar of innovation and an engine of economic growth. Campaign money flowed to the Democrats from big tech companies.

At an employees’ town hall at Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters in April 2011, President Barack Obama said: “My name is Barack Obama and I’m the guy that got Mark to wear a jacket and tie.”

As they removed jackets and ties in unison and rolled up their shirt sleeves, Obama enthused, “Being here at Facebook is so exciting for me. You guys are at the cutting edge of what’s happening.”

By The Associated Press

Just Posted

An incredible closing ceremony capped off the 2019 Canada Winter Games. (File photo by SUSAN JUDGE/2019 Canada Winter Games)
2019 Canada Winter Games Legacy Fund Society hands out $655,000

35 not-for-profit groups across Alberta to get money

Dr. Verna Yiu, president and chief executive officer of Alberta Health Services, says COVID ICU patients have increased by more than 100 per cent in the past month. (Photo by The Government of Alberta)
Record number of people in ICU: says AHS president

The head of Alberta Health Services says hospital staff are treating more… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels have acquired goaltender Connor Ungar from the Brandon Wheat Kings, the team announced Monday. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer Rebels acquire goaltender Connor Ungar, forward Liam Keeler in separate trades

The Red Deer Rebels have acquired goaltender Connor Ungar from the Brandon… Continue reading

Alexander Michael Talbot, 29, was found guilty of operating a vehicle while prohibited, flight from police and vehicle theft in Red Deer provincial court recently. (Advocate file photo)
Man charged following police chases in central Alberta last summer is sentenced

Alexander Michael Talbot sentenced to 22 months in prison

Red Deer musician Curtis Phagoo is glad the Alberta government is investing $2 million to help the province’s live music industry, but he would have liked the criteria to be expanded, so the money could be used as relief to cover revenue shortfalls. (Contributed photo by Cory Michaud)
Red Deer musicians welcome $2M in grants to help live music, but would have preferred relief program

The money is for future projects and can’t be used for retroactive expenses

FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2021, file photo, exile Tibetans use the Olympic Rings as a prop as they hold a street protest against the holding of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, in Dharmsala, India. Groups alleging human-rights abuses in China are calling for a full boycott of the Beijing Olympics, which is sure to ratchet up pressure on the International Olympic Committee, athletes, sponsors, and sports federations. A coalition of activists representing Uyghurs, Tibetans, residents of Hong Kong and others, issued a statement Monday, May 17, 2021 calling for the “full boycott,” eschewing lesser measures like “diplomatic boycotts" and negotiations with the IOC or China. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia, File)
AP Exclusive: Full-blown boycott pushed for Beijing Olympics

AP Exclusive: Full-blown boycott pushed for Beijing Olympics

Canada's Eric Lamaze riding Fine Lady 5 during the CP International competition at the Spruce Meadows Masters in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. Canada's most decorated show jumper has withdrawn from consideration for the Tokyo Olympics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canadian show jumper Eric Lamaze withdraws from Tokyo short list

Canadian show jumper Eric Lamaze withdraws from Tokyo short list

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse questions a foul call during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers Monday, April 26, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. Nurse says it was the COVID-19 outbreak in March that spiked his team's chances for a post-season run.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Chris O'Meara
Nurse faces a busy off-season, much busier if Canada qualifies for Tokyo Olympics

Nurse faces a busy off-season, much busier if Canada qualifies for Tokyo Olympics

Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Danielle Goyette speaks to reporters during a press conference in Toronto on Friday, November 10, 2017. Goyette has been named director of player development for the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and their American Hockey League affiliate. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Hayley Wickenheiser, Danielle Goyette together again on Toronto Maple Leafs staff

Hayley Wickenheiser, Danielle Goyette together again on Toronto Maple Leafs staff

Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal (11) falls on Nashville Predators center Yakov Trenin (13) during the first period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Staal, Niederreiter lift Hurricanes past Predators 5-2

Staal, Niederreiter lift Hurricanes past Predators 5-2

Washington Capitals center Lars Eller (20) watches the puck get past Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) on a shot by Washington Capitals right wing Garnet Hathaway during the first period of Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Monday, May 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Marchand scores in OT, Bruins beat Capitals to even series

Marchand scores in OT, Bruins beat Capitals to even series

Toronto Maple Leafs former players Darryl Sittler, centre, Johnny Bower, centre right, are joined by Ted Kennedy's son Mark for a ceremonial puck drop with Montreal Canadiens' Andrei Markov, left, and Toronto Maple Leafs' Dion Phaneuf, right, before NHL action in Toronto on Wednesday, October 8, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Leafs, Canadiens legends eagerly awaiting playoff series

Leafs, Canadiens legends eagerly awaiting playoff series

Conservative MP Ron Liepert rises during Question Period on Parliament Hill, Friday, March 10, 2017 in Ottawa. Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails from people wanting to talk about his party's climate plan have slowed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Western MP pitches Conservative carbon price with a 24-pack of Pilsner

Western MP pitches Conservative carbon price with a 24-pack of Pilsner

Most Read