As congressional investigators pursue evidence that Russia used Facebook ads and fake user content to influence last year’s election, President Trump struck back Wednesday morning with a tweet asserting — on no apparent evidence — that the social media company was part of a media cabal against him.
He accompanied the charge with his familiar claim that “the people were pro-Trump,” overlooking the fact that millions more Americans voted for his opponent, and repeated his boast about his accomplishments in office, on the day after his signature campaign promise to repeal Obamacare died, again, in the Senate.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2017
..But the people were Pro-Trump! Virtually no President has accomplished what we have accomplished in the first 9 months-and economy roaring
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2017
Trump’s reference to the New York Times having “apologized” for its coverage presumably alludes to a letter from the publisher and executive editor to their readers in the aftermath of Trump’s upset over Clinton last November. In the Nov. 13 letter, they questioned whether Trump’s “sheer unconventionality” led them — and other media outlets — to underestimate his support among American voters. They also expressed a desire to “rededicate” their newsroom to the paper’s fundamental mission: “To report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences in the stories that we bring to you.” The right-wing blogosphere and Trump chose to interpret this as a tacit admission of bias.
Facebook does not run editorials or commission its own articles, although its proprietary algorithms play a role in determining what content users will see. A former Facebook employee claimed last year that the designation of certain topics as “trending” was manipulated to downplay conservative opinion, but that allegation has not been substantiated.
Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and co-founder of Facebook, responded Wednesday evening to Trump’s accusation with a lengthy Facebook post, writing that he wants the social media network to be a platform for all ideas where everyone has a voice.
“Trump says Facebook is against him. 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,” he wrote.
According to Zuckerberg, Facebook played a major role in last year’s election, but it was resoundingly positive: giving a voice to more people, providing candidates a way to communicate directly with their followers and running “get out the vote” efforts.
“I made a comment that I thought the idea misinformation on Facebook changed the outcome of the election was a crazy idea. Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it,” Zuckerberg said. “This is too important an issue to be dismissive. But the data we have has always shown that our broader impact — from giving people a voice to enabling candidates to communicate directly to helping millions of people vote — played a far bigger role in this election.”
Trump has tweeted many times, most recently last week, that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign is a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.”
The U.S. intelligence community says Moscow launched a multilayered campaign of deception and propaganda to disrupt American democracy and tilt last year’s election in Trump’s favor.
“The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?” Trump wrote on Twitter on Sept. 22.
“The greatest influence over our election was the Fake News Media ‘screaming’ for Crooked Hillary Clinton,” he continued. “Next, she was a bad candidate!”
Much like Trump’s successful appropriation of the phrase “fake news,” the accusation that some form of conspiracy transformed Facebook into a hub of anti-Trump propaganda reverses what insiders say actually happened.
Facebook recently admitted that it had sold $100,000 worth of political ads to hundreds of fake accounts with connections to a notorious Russian “troll farm” in St. Petersburg between June 2015 and May 2017. These ads generally praised Trump while deriding his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. It’s illegal for foreign interests to purchase political ads in the U.S.
Facebook has already turned over more than 3,000 “secretly sponsored” ads to Mueller. But the social media giant has refused to release them publicly — citing internal policies to protect the privacy of users.
“When we recently uncovered this activity, we provided that information to the special counsel. We also briefed Congress — and this morning I directed our team to provide the ads we’ve found to Congress as well,” Zuckerberg said.
“As a general rule, we are limited in what we can discuss publicly about law enforcement investigations, so we may not always be able to share our findings publicly. But we support Congress in deciding how to best use this information to inform the public, and we expect the government to publish its findings when their investigation is complete.”
Back in January 2016, however, Trump had a much warmer view of the platform, tweeting about how he completely dominated Facebook conversations.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News.
Read more from Yahoo News:
- Hurricane Maria coverage revives old questions about Puerto Rico’s status
- Activists cling to hope Myanmar leader will step up and fight ethnic cleansing
- Looking back at the ‘Hitler diaries’ in an age of fake news
- Locals take on China’s invasion of Africa’s biggest economy: ‘They’re like Goliath, we’re David’
- Photos: Rohingya flee to Bangladesh after Myanmar attacks