Opinion: the relationship between the outgoing US president and Mark Zuckerberg  is one based on financial and communicative co-dependency

Over the past four years, Mark Zuckerberg has published a story in installments that shows the tensions of the relationship between Facebook and Donald Trump. We know Trump prefered Twitter (until he was permanently barred from the platform), but we cannot ignore the ideological affair between the US president and Zuckerberg's platform. It's one based on financial and communicative co-dependency which has brought changes which also influence our own interactions. 

To understand the full story, we have to go back to May 18th 2016 when Zuckerberg met with a dozen conservative politicians in order to make sure that Facebook was seen as a platform 'for all ideas'. Facebook wanted Trump and the reality, the Facebook boss told them, was that "conservatives and Republicans have always been an important part of Facebook. Donald Trump has more fans on Facebook than any other presidential candidate". 

A year later, Zuckerberg embraced the idea of making Facebook both a platform for all and a community. In order to know the ins and outs of different communities, he decided that he had to experience them so he embarked on an odyssey that saw him cross the United States.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime in April 2019, a discussion on Mark Zuckerberg's meetings with TD's on the impact Facebook has had on the political and social landscape internationally

On July 12th, he was in Williston, North Dakota and posted about everything he was "learning about fracking and the community around it". One of the lessons he saw was the impact of Trump's policies on the community. A number of people told Zuckerberg that they had felt their livelihood was blocked by the government but they felt a sense of hope again when Trump approved the pipeline. "That word 'hope' came up many times", Zuckerberg wrote. "One person told me the night the pipeline was approved, people lit fireworks and rode trucks with American flags down Main Street to celebrate".

Zuckerberg’s post reflects on fossils and the environment. He argues that as long as there is no alternative to fossils, these people need to work on the industry and "they wish they'd stop being demonized for it". That is, Trump supporters have reasons whose nuance we might not understand, so at least, they should be free to express them.

But Zuckerberg's efforts did not seem to be enough for Trump, who tweeted on September 27th that Facebook had always been against him. A message came right back the same day from Zuckerberg. "I want to respond to President Trump's tweet this morning", he said. "Every day, I work to bring people together and build a community for everyone. We hope to give all people a voice and create a platform for all ideas’" It was if he was saying 'we still want you, but we do not want to depend on you'.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, Brittany Kaiser was a key member of staff in Cambridge Analytica on the Brexit and Donald Trump campaigns before she became a whistleblower

Things changed again in 2018, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal exposed how Facebook’s structures favoured Trump's election win. That year, Zuckerberg increased the number of his own authored posts about security on Facebook. The affair was becoming difficult to manage and it became clear that a platform for all ideas was not such a good idea after all. Facebook decided to hold the fortress by creating a range of policies based on values and commercial interest that aimed to protect freedom of expression and give security around the creation of content. 

On Facebook, the freedom of expression is understood to be the freedom to create content that is not pre-edited. All content is controlled by an automatic detention system which checks for comments which are against community standards.

Community standards come in three tiers. The first is security: if a piece of content attacks individuals, it is eliminated. The second tier concerns security and freedom: if a piece of content is loaded with racist or misogynistic references, but does not attack individuals, the probability is that it will not be taken down, but its visibility may be reduced. Tier three refers to pieces of content that generates conversation but can eventually escalate into threats or violence. For this type of content, Facebook has measures in place which reduce visibility of content and aim to avoid escalation.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, Mark Little from Kizen on the role social media companies played in the stormong of the US Capitol 

The biggest issue for Zuckerberg over the the last four years has been using this freedom and security scale to measure content. "The difficulty lies in fighting harm while allowing freedom", he said in 2018. In addition, he introduced policies late last year that protect against Holocaust Denial, shutting down at once the idea of platforms for all. 

It was precisely under this set of policies that many Trump supporter comments have been deleted. And it was under the issue of security, that Trump was banned "indefinitely" earlier this month from the platform. It was not all ideological: it was simply not secure enough to have him on the platform, and therefore, the affair was over. 

However, it remains to be seen if the relationship will be rekindled. After all Trump's statement last week  saw him re-embracing the values of individual freedom of expression and non-violence - the very things Facebook aims to protect.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ