Donald Trump and Mark Zuckerberg each told partial truths yesterday.
First, Trump tweeted that “Facebook was always anti-Trump.” From all available information, it does seem true that the vast majority of Facebook’s employees did not want Donald Trump elected president of the United States. They are disproportionately young, urban, and socially liberal, living in California’s most left-wing region. Trump lost all these demographic groups.
Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, responded to Trump with a post about the company’s role in the election. “Trump says Facebook is against him,” he wrote. “Liberals say we helped Trump. Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don’t like. That’s what running a platform for all ideas looks like.”
Trump wants Facebook to be seen as having a traditional anti-Trump bias. Mark Zuckerberg wants the service to be seen as neutral. And they’re both wrong.
Zuckerberg’s statement begins with a play right out of the D.C. congressional playbook: The tough-minded, get-things-done pragmatist knows in his heart that if everyone is mad, he must have done something right.
But the sophisticated critiques of Facebook are not about ideas and content that people don’t like, but rather the new structural forces that Facebook has created. News and information flow differently now than they did before Facebook; capturing the human attention that constitutes that flow is Facebook's raison d’être (and value to advertisers). Now that it has done so, Zuckerberg would like to pretend that his software is a pure conduit through which social and political truths can flow.