Leaked audio comments from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly include him saying that the tech company would likely have no choice but to sue the U.S. government to stave off being broken up if Elizabeth Warren becomes president.
The comments, obtained by The Verge, span a wide range of topics and deep insight into Zuckerberg’s thinking, going much further than the usually stoic CEO appears in public.
“You have someone like Elizabeth Warren thinks that the right answer is to break up the companies … I mean, if she gets elected president then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge,” Zuckerberg is quoted as saying in two Q&A sessions with Facebook employees during July.
“And does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government. I mean, that’s not the position that you want to be in when you’re, you know, I mean … It’s like, we care about our country, and want to work with our government and do good things. But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and fight.”
Zuckerberg, who met with President Trump and several D.C. lawmakers last month, also reportedly said that the company’s size has helped it fight election interference while noting that its rival, Twitter, has been inadequate at fighting interference because of fewer resources.
“It’s why Twitter can’t do as good of a job as we can,” Zuckerberg said. “I mean, they face, qualitatively, the same types of issues. But they can’t put in the investment. Our investment on safety is bigger than the whole revenue of their company.”
Warren responded to the story, tweeting that the system that allows “giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices” needs to be fixed.
What would really “suck” is if we don’t fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy. https://t.co/rI0v55KKAi
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 1, 2019
A Facebook spokesperson described the D.C. meetings as “good” and “constructive,” aimed at “meeting with policymakers to hear their concerns and talk about future Internet regulation.” Trump also tweeted an image last month of himself shaking hands with Zuckerberg at the White House.
Nice meeting with Mark Zuckerberg of @Facebook in the Oval Office today. https://t.co/k5ofQREfOc pic.twitter.com/jNt93F2BsG
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2019
In March, Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, put forth a plan that would break up the largest tech companies in the country, chiefly Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple, saying the power they hold is too great.
“I want a government that makes sure everybody — even the biggest and most powerful companies in America — plays by the rules,” Warren wrote in a blog post announcing her plan. “And I want to make sure that the next generation of great American tech companies can flourish. To do that, we need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor.”
In her plan, Warren specifically mentioned that she wants to unwind Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, an idea that has gained traction on both sides of the political aisle.
During his meetings with D.C. lawmakers, Zuckerberg met with Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who has proposed a bill to ban features that enable limitless scrolling, autoplay and other addictive features on social media. Hawley said on Twitter that he asked the Facebook founder to show he was “serious about bias, privacy & competition” and sell WhatsApp and Instagram as well as submit to a third-party audit on censorship.
“He said no to both,” Hawley tweeted.
Just finished meeting w @facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Had a frank conversation. Challenged him to do two things to show FB is serious about bias, privacy & competition. 1) Sell WhatsApp & Instagram 2) Submit to independent, third-party audit on censorship. He said no to both
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) September 19, 2019
Sen. Hawley has also announced legislation that would remove tech titans’ protection from liability for third-party content on their platforms. Under the Ending Internet Censorship Act, these companies are able to “retain Section 230 protections if they prove they are politically neutral to a third-party auditor,” a Hawley spokesperson told Fox News.
Zuckerberg’s visit to Washington came amid a fraught period for Facebook, with lawmakers calling for closer scrutiny of the company amid privacy and censorship bias concerns. Facebook currently faces an anti-trust probe led by state attorneys general as well as a separate antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
That agency slapped Facebook with a $5 billion fine over the company’s privacy policies, and the company agreed to enact new oversight on how the company utilizes user data.
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