Hillary Clinton has accused Facebook’s “authoritarian” chief executive Mark Zuckerberg of intending to use the platform’s “immense” power to re-elect Donald Trump in the upcoming election.
Mr Trump’s defeated 2016 opponent told The Atlantic of her horror at Mr Zuckerberg’s influence and his apparent unwillingness to tackle misinformation, for which she suggested several damning motives.
“They have, in my view, contorted themselves into making arguments about freedom of speech and censorship, which they are hanging on to because it’s in their commercial interests,” Ms Clinton said.
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Facebook has sparked a bitter row with its decision to allow politicians to lie in paid advertisements, despite banning ordinary users from doing so.
Senior Facebook officials have sought to justify the decision in terms of free speech, claiming the public should see politicians’ unedited statements even if they are not aware of their falsity.
Mr Trump’s re-election campaign has already courted controversy with a misleading Facebook advert pushing a conspiracy about possible challenger Joe Biden.
In a phrasing that suggested she believed the social media giant inadvertently influenced her defeat in the 2016 election, Ms Clinton said there was reason to believe that Facebook is “not just going to re-elect Trump, but intend[s] to re-elect Trump”.
Mr Zuckerberg has been “somehow persuaded”, Ms Clinton claimed, “that it’s to his and Facebook’s advantage not to cross Trump. That’s what I believe. And it just gives me a pit in my stomach”.
The Facebook co-founder was recently forced to deny the president had lobbied him after NBC discovered the pair enjoyed an intimate White House dinner, which was not publicly disclosed.
They merely talked about “things that were on his mind, and some of the topics that you’d read about in the news around our work”, Mr Zuckerberg told CBS News.
In October, Facebook decided to include “the platform of the alt-right”, Breitbart News, in its “high-quality news” section, days after Politico revealed Mr Zuckerberg had been hosting off-the-record dinners and informal talks to discuss free speech with controversial right-wing journalists like Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson, and politician Lindsey Graham – a staunch Trump defender.
The meetings came amid unsubstantiated allegations that the site was censoring right-wing news sites. Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey also reportedly undertook similar meetings.
While the substance of Mr Zuckerberg’s presidential meeting remains a mystery, Ms Clinton said she believed the pair shared comparable views on certain subjects.
Asked about Mr Zuckerberg’s previous statements on the relationship between facts and opinions, she said: “It’s Trumpian,” she said. “It’s authoritarian.”
Mr Zuckerberg’s aversion to one Democratic presidential hopeful is public knowledge. In leaked audio, Mr Zuckerberg has indicated he would “go to the mat” and “fight” Elizabeth Warren, whose antitrust policies he described as “an existential” threat to Facebook.
Ms Warren’s position is representative of growing interest in and suspicion of the platform in Washington.
These concerns were bolstered after it emerged Cambridge Analytica was able to identify and target swing voters in 2016 using data harvested from some 87 million Facebook users by exploiting a loophole on the site via a quiz app.
During a congressional hearing into the data breach Mr Zuckerberg publicly apologised for not doing enough to prevent “fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy”, adding: “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake.”
The 2016 election is viewed by many as the first US election to be notably impacted by online misinformation. False and misleading news articles and images appeared on many voters’ Facebook newsfeeds, which several studies have credited with helping to propel Mr Trump to victory.
“We did not understand what was going on below the radar screen,” Ms Clinton said, not in direct reference to Facebook. However, she compared the social media platform’s power to that of a national government.
“I feel like you’re negotiating with a foreign power sometimes,” the former secretary of state said, referencing her dealings with those “at the highest levels” in the company.
“[Mr Zuckerberg] is immensely powerful,” Ms Clinton added. “This is a global company that has huge influence in ways that we’re only beginning to understand.”
Facebook has been contacted for comment.