For a company that’s come under congressional and public scrutiny from all sides of the political spectrum, including for influencing the 2016 presidential election, it’s unsurprising that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg would dedicate time to damage control with leaders who might be involved in investigating and regulating the platform. A new report from Politico, however, suggests that Zuckerberg may be if not outright favoring conservatives, than at least giving them more attention and access.

Zuckerberg has been inviting prominent conservative pundits, reporters and at least one lawmaker to his house for a series of casual, off-the-record meetings and dinners to discuss free speech and potential partnerships, Politico reported Monday. He’s being doing so since July.

The gatherings, write Natasha Bertrand and Daniel Lippman, “are part of Zuckerberg’s broader effort to cultivate friends on the right amid outrage by President Donald Trump and his allies over alleged ‘bias’ against conservatives at Facebook and other major social media companies.”

Revelations of these meetings have heightened concerns on the left that Zuckerberg “is trying to appease the Trump administration by not cracking down on right-wing propaganda,” a cybersecurity researcher and former government official who asked to remain anonymous told Politico.

The implication of appeasement is a sharp contrast to how Zuckerberg has responded to concerns from Democratic politicians and non-right-wing media.

When he heard about presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up Facebook, Zuckerberg threatened to sue if she tried, according to transcripts from internal company meetings obtained by The Verge.

Even as the company was facing criticism for its actions during the 2016 elections, Facebook not only concealed Russian influence on its platform, but hired a conservative opposition research company to dig up dirt on critics, implying that they were paid by liberal billionaire George Soros, according to a 2018 New York Times investigation.

After the Times report was published, Zuckerberg told CNN Business: “It is not clear to me at all that the report is right.” Zuckerberg was more blunt in an internal meeting, calling the article “bullshit,” according to 2018 article in The Wall Street Journal, which also reported that he told Facebook executives that “some of the reaction to the Cambridge Analytica controversy amounted to ‘hysteria.’”

By contrast, when the Republican president accused Facebook of being too friendly toward liberals and Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson said the platform is contributing to “the death of free speech in America,” the company commissioned a conservative bias audit.

“I’m under no illusions that [Zuckerberg is] a conservative, but I think he does care about some of our concerns,” a person familiar with the dinners told Politico.

Among the attendees have been Tucker Carlson of Fox News, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, CNN’s Mary Katherine Hahn, Guy Benson, editor of Town Hall and contributor to Fox News, Byron York of The Washington Examiner and Brent Bozell, who founded the Media Research Center.

According to Politico:

Each dinner has been hosted at one of Zuckerberg’s homes in California, and at least one lasted around two-and-a-half to three hours. The conversations center around “free expression, unfair treatment of conservatives, the appeals process for real or perceived unfair treatment, fact checking, partnerships, and privacy,” the source familiar with the meetings said.

The same source also called Zuckerberg “receptive and thoughtful.”

When asked for comment, a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement “For years, Mark Zuckerberg has met with elected officials and thought leaders all across the political spectrum.”

Read the full Politico report here.


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