President Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, and Mark Zuckerberg met over dinner at the White House in October, according to a report from NBC News citing a Facebook insider. Also in attendance was Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member, Trump donor and Silicon Valley financier who backed Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker that doomed the site.
“As is normal for a CEO of a major U.S. company, Mark accepted an invitation to have dinner with the President and First Lady at the White House,” Facebook spokesperson told NBC in a statement via email.
The dinner coincided with Zuckerberg’s October visit to the capital where he testified and faced a particularly scathing line of questioning from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who has been a vocal critic of Facebook’s actions, or lack thereof, in the face of political disinformation.
And this could be one reason Trump wants to cozy up to Zuckerberg. Facebook recently made a controversial decision to allow politicians to lie on the platform by not enforcing fact-checking on political ads. Trump has already taken advantage of the loophole, as Judd Legum discovered, when his campaign posted an ad with false information that former vice president Joe Biden “promised Ukraine $1 billion dollars if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son’s company.” Despite other fact-checkers like Politifact and FactCheck.org ruling the claim as false, the ad was allowed to stand because of the platform’s exemption for politicians. Following Facebook’s policy change, Legum also noted, Trump’s campaign “exponentially increased” its ad spending on Facebook by $1.5 million.
Meeting with the president is a continuation of Facebook and Zuckerberg’s strategy of courting the right wing following accusations from conservatives that the platform has exhibited bias against them. Beginning in July of this year, the CEO has been hosting dinners and conversations with prominent journalists, commentators, and one Republican lawmaker according to Politico.
Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has painted herself as a Facebook adversary, tweeted a link to the NBC article and harshly criticized Zuckerberg, saying, “Amid antitrust scrutiny, Facebook is going on a charm offensive with Republican lawmakers. And now, Mark Zuckerberg and one of Facebook’s board members—a major Trump donor—had a secret dinner with Trump. This is corruption, plain and simple.” She added that if elected, unlike Trump, she would not “cozy up to Facebook” as president.