Yes, the president’s acts were unprecedented. But Facebook is also preparing for a new Washington, controlled by Democrats.
In his post announcing that President Trump would be blocked from posting on Facebook until at least Inauguration Day, Mark Zuckerberg wrote that the president’s incitement of the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday was “fundamentally different” than any of the offenses he’s committed on Facebook before. “The risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” he wrote on Thursday.
That may be true. But there’s another reason why — after four years spent insisting that a tech company has no business shutting up the president of the United States, no matter how much he threatens to shoot protesters or engages in voter suppression — Zuckerberg finally had a change of heart: Republicans just lost power.
Since at least 2016, when conservatives first set off on their crusade against Big Tech, armed with spurious claims of liberal bias, Facebook’s leaders have cowered in fear of the right. That year, after Gizmodo reported that Facebook had kept some conservative news out of its trending topics feature, Zuckerberg invited a ragtag delegation of conservative pundits including Glenn Beck and Tucker Carlson to Facebook’s headquarters to extend an olive branch.
From that day forward, Facebook has repeatedly sought to avoid the right’s ire, elevating Joel Kaplan, a former George W. Bush staffer and himself a Brooks Brothers rioter, to the company’s highest public policy position to navigate a Washington that was no longer starry-eyed about Silicon Valley. During Trump’s tenure and under a Republican-controlled Congress, Facebook refused to prohibit white nationalist content and conspiracy theories like QAnon, shelved plans to promote healthier political dialogue for fear it would stoke Republican outrage and lavished special treatment on far-right pages that repeatedly violated its policies. All the while, conservative voices dominated the site in the U.S.
None of it helped, of course. Zuckerberg was still regularly excoriated by Republican members of the House and Senate in public hearings over imagined slights and asked to explain again and again why a given political ad had been taken down or why Diamond and Silk’s Facebook traffic was falling. In those moments, Zuckerberg would steel himself and politely vow to look into the matter, bending over backward to prove he was taking each bad faith argument to heart.
But, now that the people of Georgia have spoken, Democrats are about to assume control of both the White House and the Senate. So it stands to reason then that Zuckerberg is beginning to bend in a new direction.