Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shakes hands with President Trump at the White House on Thursday, September 19, 2019. The White HouseMark Zuckerberg met with President Trump in Washington, D.C. on Thursday during a trip in which the Facebook CEO aimed to placate lawmakers concerned about the social network’s growing influence and privacy missteps.
A Facebook spokesperson told Digital Trends that Zuckerberg is in the capital to meet with lawmakers “to hear their and concerns and talk about future internet regulation,” adding that he had “a good, constructive meeting with President Trump at the White House today.”
At the time of writing, few details about Thursday’s surprise meeting have emerged, though it’s been reported that Dan Scavino, Trump’s social media director, and senior adviser Jared Kushner, were also present.
Trump has been critical of Facebook in the past, though his opinions, more often than not posted online for his 64 million Twitter followers, have usually called out the service for having what he believes to be a bias against conservative voices. One tweet, posted in March 2019, accused not only Facebook, but also Google and Twitter, of being “sooo on the side of the Radical Left Democrats.”
He was also quick to criticize Libra, Facebook’s planned digital currency, saying it would have “little standing or dependability,” while adding that the company would have to seek a banking charter if it wanted to proceed with the idea.
Most lawmakers, however, focus on Facebook’s issues with data privacy, violent and extreme content, and how the platform handles disinformation and political advertisers using its service following interference from outside of the U.S. during the 2016 presidential election.
Feeling the heat from lawmakers on both sides of the political divide, Zuckerberg’s trip to D.C. is an effort to ease their concerns and to reassure them that the social media giant is taking the necessary steps to improve its practices, and with the 2020 presidential election fast approaching, much is at stake.
According to a Bloomberg report, Zuckerberg’s meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Thursday “grew testy” as he “clashed with Republican Senator Josh Hawley over his company’s record on privacy and safeguarding user data.”
Recent moves by Facebook to get on the right side of lawmakers include the creation of an oversight board that will make decisions about how the platform moderates controversial content. It will also have the power to overrule Zuckerberg on some decisions.
The board will comprise 40 people from around the world — though at the start it will have just 11 members — and will hear its first cases in 2020.
“We are responsible for enforcing our policies every day and we make millions of content decisions every week,” Zuckerberg wrote in an open letter when the board was announced earlier this week. “But ultimately I don’t believe private companies like ours should be making so many important decisions about speech on our own.”
How useful Zuckerberg’s D.C. visit turns out to be remains to be seen, but his decision to go in person indicates the pressure the top team at Facebook is under to avoid regulation as it seeks to grow its business even further.