Facebook faces increasing pressure from the left over its reluctance to restrict political ads. In a rare act of pushback, CEO Mark Zuckerberg used screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s own words against him to respond to his criticism.
The head of the tech behemoth hit back at Sorkin after he penned a letter in the New York Times criticizing Facebook’s stance on political speech. Zuckerberg took to Facebook to share a quote from Sorkin’s 1995 movie, ‘The American President’, about an idealized Democratic president’s political and love life. The quote is from an impassioned speech that the titular character, played by Michael Douglas, delivers to the White House press corps in response to a campaign of personal attacks.
“You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours,” the script goes.
“You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.”
Zuckerberg appears to be saying that when Sorkin wrote his scolding open letter accusing Zuckerberg of hypocrisy, he was being hypocritical himself. In his letter, the screenwriter lashed out at Facebook’s policy of allowing factually incorrect political ads on the grounds of free speech.
This can’t possibly be the outcome you and I want, to have crazy lies pumped into the water supply that corrupt the most important decisions we make together. Lies that have a very real and incredibly dangerous effect on our elections and our lives and our children’s lives.
Facebook claims that its policy is a matter of principle and isn’t motivated by revenue generated from the political ads, which is but a fraction of what the company makes. Sorkin, however, challenged that, and said that when he was working on the Academy Award-winning screenplay for ‘The Social Network’, which is loosely based on Zuckerberg’s creation of Facebook, it had to be run by a team of lawyers with the sole goal of not getting sued.
“Even after the screenplay for ‘The Social Network’ satisfied the standards of Sony’s legal department, we sent the script – as promised over a handshake – to a group of senior lieutenants at your company and invited them to give notes,” Sorkin wrote.
Political pressure on social media companies has been ramping up again in the run-up to next year’s election season. Twitter took an apparent easy way out by banning all political ads on its platform, but Facebook has been holding its ground. Zuckerberg last week faced a grilling about false political ads at the House during a five-hour testimony to the Financial Services Committee.
Posing as a champion of the freedom of speech doesn’t stop Zuckerberg from taking actions that seem quite contrary to it.
From little things, like refusing to take questions after a speech at Georgetown University, to more significant issues such as deplatforming voices that the establishment deems too marginal to be heard, as well as gagging ordinary users on command from Washington and its allies, he has been eager to enforce censorship as long as it doesn’t hurt Facebook’s bottom line.
That said, the latest wave of outrage over lies in political ads from the pro-Democrat camp would have probably sounded more sincere if it didn’t sometimes come from the very same people who had spent two years peddling a conspiracy theory claiming Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to win the presidency. The Russiagate edifice was based on leaks, innuendo, and outright falsities; it ultimately collapsed, giving the president more ammo to shoot back at his detractors.
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