Facebook now says that it will not use its products to influence how people vote in 2016, The Hill reported Friday. The statement came after Gizmodo reported that Facebook employees asked CEO Mark Zuckerberg if they have a “responsibility” to stop GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
“Voting is a core value of democracy and we believe that supporting civic participation is an important contribution we can make to the community,” the company told Gizmodo. “We encourage any and all candidates, groups, and voters to use our platform to share their views on the election and debate the issues. We as a company are neutral – we have not and will not use our products in a way that attempts to influence how people vote.”
The statement, Gizmodo added, did not answer the primary question, which, Michael Nunez said, is whether Zuckerberg responded to the employee question, and what that response was. According to Gizmodo’s original report, the question, which rated in the top five asked of Zuckerberg, read: “What responsibility does Facebook have to help prevent President Trump in 2017?”
Facebook, Gizmodo explained, could manipulate news feed algorithms to downplay or squash pro-Trump stories if it so desired. Moreover, Gizmodo added, Facebook “has no legal responsibility to give an unfiltered view of what’s happening on their network.”
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh agreed, telling Gizmodo the site “can promote or block any material that it wants.” Volokh also said Facebook “has the same First Amendment right as the New York Times,” meaning that the company can “completely block Trump if they want.”
Concerns over the question asked by Facebook employees are quite valid. Last September, Zuckerberg was caught on an open microphone telling German Chancellor Angela Merkel he was working on ways to stifle negative stories about migrants in Europe, and the company announced an initiative to rid the European continent of language it doesn’t like. The move prompted Breitbart.com to call Facebook the “world’s most dangerous censor.” Many have accused the social media giant of viewpoint discrimination in recent years.
Facebook, for example, banned Fox News’ Todd Starnes for a short period over a post supporting the NRA, Paula Deen and Jesus Christ. Last year, Facebook told one user that a profile picture promoting traditional marriage violates their community standards and one page owner said his page was yanked after Facebook claimed a picture of the Marine Corps emblem violated their nebulous standards.
In May 2014, Dave Gaubatz, co-author of “Muslim Mafia” and a specialist in counter-terrorism, said he was told that Muslim groups are working with Facebook to remove accounts of those critical of Islam. Shortly after that report was released, Facebook responded by falsely flagging that article and others mentioning Islam as “unsafe.” Some have been slapped for simply saying “thank you,” and one user was told her profile picture of a lilac tree was “pornographic.”
Zuckerberg, The Hill added, has long been a supporter of immigration reform, and took a shot at Trump during a recent speech at a developer’s conference. He also said the U.S. should follow Germany’s lead on immigration after that nation experienced a huge influx of migrants from the Middle East.
Gizmodo said it reached out to Facebook for comment prior to its original story. The company said it would respond with an official statement but never did, providing the statement to other outlets instead.