Mark Zuckerberg made a deal with the Devil when he decided to cozy up to Donald Trump. He hired Joel Kaplan to be his political enforcer, a former Bush administration official known for his cozy relationships with Beltway conservatives. Kaplan, as media reports have acknowledged, plays an inordinate role not just in Facebook’s lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill, but on decision-making around critical internal issues. It’s no accident that when Zuckerberg decided to make his major public statement on how the platform would address political manipulation, lies and hate speech, he chose Georgetown University as the venue: it is a prestigious DC educational institution known for training those who pursue careers in the federal bureaucracy. The address, which seriously deflated expectations that Zuckerberg would acknowledge serious problems in management of content on his platform, instead doubled-down on the libertarian message so favored by Republicans that more regulation and oversight was not what was needed. But rather that the marketplace of ideas would, through natural forces, weed out bad speech and reward the good.
Kaplan’s presence was reinforced by Zuckerberg’s coming increasingly under the sway of the champion of Silicon Valley libertarianism, Peter Thiel. One of the founders of Paypal, Thiel had befriended the Facebook founder and mentored him in the ways of the market. Thiel was one of the sole technology entrepreneurs who embraced the Trump campaign in its early stages. He was rewarded with unprecedented access to the president. It was Thiel who secured a secret dinner invitation at the White House for Zuckerberg after one of his days spent testifying before Congressional committees.
One of the main takeaways from the Georgetown speech and subsequent policy statements from Zuckerberg was the sweeping decision not to censor political ads. He carved out an exception for political advertising which meant that it would bypass the normal moderation process, designed to flag hate speech and other violations of “community standards.” Much of the company’s user base and the American people disagree with this laissez-faire approach. In fact, calls by Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to “break up” Facebook and regulate it as a public utility were inspired by the seeming tone-deaf approach Zuckerberg took toward these and related issues.
This is an emoji. 🔻
It’s also a symbol widely used by Antifa. It was used in an ad about Antifa.
It is not in the ADL’s Hate Symbols Database. pic.twitter.com/AY1YRxduf4
— Trump War Room – Text TRUMP to 88022 & get the APP (@TrumpWarRoom) June 18, 2020
But today, Facebook caved. After it took yet another media pounding for publishing 2,000 ads by the Trump campaign which featured incendiary attacks on the so-called Antifa terror conspiracy, the company took down the ads (pictured), saying that they violated its standards:
“Our policy prohibits using a banned hate group’s symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol.”
By “banned groups” they meant Nazis though curiously, they didn’t use the term. The ads featured an inverted red triangle, one of many badges used in German concentration camps to designate the various classes of inmates. A red triangle referred to those who were Communists, Socialists or other “undesirable” political prisoners. Today, the most well known of such badges were the pink triangles designating primarily homosexuals and other “sexual deviants.”
The ad further cements the impression that Trump’s political message is infused not just with white supremacist ideas, but actual historical Nazi ideology. Though we’ve seen other evidence of this in prior campaign messaging, this is one of its more overt expressions.
Though I am no expert on the symbology of the radical left, the actual historic logo of Antifa has no relation to the one used in the ad. Trump’s gang may have been trying to link Antifa to a well-known anarchist symbol (pictured) of an “A” superimposed on an “O” (for “order”).
Returning to the Trump campaign tweet defending use of the red triangle, it argued nonsensically that it wasn’t in the ADL’s “hate symbol database.” Which of course it wouldn’t be, because ADL hasn’t designated Antifa a hate group (as far as I know) and even if it had, the symbol isn’t associated with Antifa. But I suppose if you try to argue against the logic of Donald Trump it’s a lost cause from the start, since there isn’t any. His political ideology seems to be a fantasy from Alice in Wonderland in which a “thing means what [he] wants it to mean, nothing more and nothing less.”
The problem for Zuckerberg in his campaign to make nice to Trump is that it worked as long as Trump was rising high and the Democrats were on the defensive. But as Covid19, the Black Lives Matter protests and general exhaustion with all things Trump seeps into the collective American consciousness and it appears increasingly like he will lose the November election, the winds are turning. What Facebook’s CEO could get away with a year ago he can’t get away with now.
The “cave” on the issue of political speech seems to be the first admission that clinging to Trump’s coattails no longer works. It may also signify a concession that Trump’s American Carnage message from his Inaugural Address has finally fallen flat. I wouldn’t be surprised if those political winds pick up, that we see a diminished role for Kaplan and/or Thiel in the company. Though Zuckerberg appears to be a libertarian in his views, he is most of all a creature of the markets. As such, it’s likely he will trim his sails and adjust to the political climate as it changes. I would expect to see more concessions around the issue of incendiary political ads and Trump-style hate speech. If he doesn’t, and the Democrats win the White House and Senate majority, it will be very rough sailing for him.