Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook suppressed the distribution of the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020 after a visit from the FBI.
Zuckerberg told Joe Rogan that the FBI had been warning Facebook to beware of incoming “Russian propaganda” before the New York Post released the report on Hunter.
Zuckerberg explained on the “Joe Rogan Experience” Thursday:
“Basically the background here is the FBI, I think basically came to us — some folks on our team and was like, ‘Hey, um, just so you know, like, you should be on high alert. There was the — we thought that there was a lot of Russian propaganda in the 2016 election. We have it on notice that basically there’s about to be some kind of dump of — that’s similar to that. So just be vigilant.'”
“We just kind of thought, Hey look, if the FBI, which, you know, I still view as a legitimate institution in this country, it’s a very professional law enforcement. They come to us and tell us that we need to be on guard about something. Then I wanna take that seriously.”
He says Facebook took a more judicious approach to the story than Twitter:
“So our protocol is different from Twitter’s. What Twitter did is they said ‘You can’t share this at all.’ Um, we didn’t do that. If something’s reported to us as potentially, um, misinformation, important misinformation, we also use this third party fact-checking program, cause we don’t wanna be deciding what’s true and false.”
To clarify Zuckerberg’s comments, Twitter briefly suspended the New York Post for sharing the story and deleted tweets sharing the hyperlink. Facebook didn’t remove posts but instead placed the story lower in newsfeeds so that only accounts continuing to scroll could find the link.
Meta calls the process “decreased distribution,” a practice critics accuse the company of enforcing on stories that run counter to certain political beliefs.
In essence, Zuckerberg provides the defense that while Twitter banned the story, Facebook only buried it.
Zuckerberg says Facebook wanted to wait until it could prove Russia did not plant propaganda before allowing mass distribution.
Given the impact of the decision, his excuses are hardly valid.
First, Facebook interfered in the 2020 presidential election by throttling the story. 16% of Biden voters say they would have voted differently had Facebook and smaller social media platforms not censored a credibly-reported bombshell.
Second, it sounds as if the FBI is why Facebook put a specific report under a thorough review process. In that case, there’s another example of Facebook working on behalf of the government.
Facebook has rarely applied this careful review to other potential bombshells, including stories that turn out to be, well, propaganda. The Washington Post’s dubious reporting tying Donald Trump to Russia collusion sat atop newsfeeds for weeks.
Rogan asked Zuckerberg if he regretted how Facebook handled the laptop story after the New York Times found corroborating evidence. Zuckerberg quickly responded “yes.”
“It sucks. It turned out after the fact, the fact-checkers looked into it, no one was able to say it was false … I think it sucks, though, in the same way that probably having to go through a criminal trial but being proven innocent in the end sucks.”
Facebook failed during the run-up to the 2020 election. Yet it plans to double down on its content moderation. Last week, the tech company announced it would play thoughtpolice again for the 2022 midterms.
Facebook explains its upcoming mission as a means to “prevent election and voter interference.”
So, when an accurately-reported article about student loan forgiveness or inflation or the raid at Mar-a-Lago appears buried in newsfeeds at large, know that Zuckerberg and his team are preserving democracy. And maybe taking cues from the FBI.
*For more on social media’s role in the political climate, read our recent column Social Media Has Acted More Government Agency Than Private Industry here.