Vincent Harris Quoted in Facebook’s Zuckerberg makes plea for conservatives’ ‘trust’

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday personally extended an olive branch to conservatives still reeling from charges that the social media giant has suppressed news from right-leaning media outlets.

At a roughly 90-minute, closed-door meeting at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters, Zuckerberg emphasized that Facebook doesn’t censor political viewpoints when selecting stories for its “Trending Topics” news feed, contrary to anonymous accusations aired last week on the tech website Gizmodo. He and other company leaders stressed that Facebook aspires to be an “open platform,” according to one source who attended the meeting and described it as productive.

But the roster of high-profile conservatives in the room — including right-wing media star Glenn Beck and a top aide to Donald Trump — still relayed to Zuckerberg their “frustrations” on an array of issues, from Facebook’s guidelines for reviewing news stories to how it handles content related to guns or the tea party, which they said often ends up being diminished or banned.
There’s a “perception among conservatives that Facebook is a liberal organization that conservatives can’t trust, and they seem genuinely interested in changing that,” said Rob Bluey, The Heritage Foundation’s vice president of publishing, who attended the meeting.

“It was really a give and take between political and technical and how these works are colliding,” said David Bozell, son of Brent Bozell and executive director of online activist organization ForAmerica. “It was very friendly very personable,” he added.

Zuckerberg himself sought to drive home that point and defend his company in a Facebook post shortly after the meeting concluded.

“The reality is, conservatives and Republicans have always been an important part of Facebook,” he wrote. Donald Trump has more fans on Facebook than any other presidential candidate. And Fox News drives more interactions on its Facebook page than any other news outlet in the world. It’s not even close.”

“Still, I know many conservatives don’t trust that our platform surfaces content without a political bias,” Zuckerberg added. “I wanted to hear their concerns personally and have an open conversation about how we can build trust. I want to do everything I can to make sure our teams uphold the integrity of our products.”

Representing Facebook along with Zuckerberg were Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer and longtime backer of the Democratic Party, and Peter Thiel, the investor, Facebook board member and a recently named delegate for Trump at the GOP convention.

Conservative political and media figures attending the session included Barry Bennett, a top adviser to Trump; Beck, the television and radio commentator who owns The Blaze; Zac Moffatt, a digital adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign; former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, the leader of The Heritage Foundation; and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. Fox News contributor Dana Perino and CNN contributor S.E. Cupp also joined. Other guests included Alex Skatell, founder and CEO of the Independent Journal Review; Jonathan Garthwaite, general manager of conservative websites including HotAir; Mary Katherine Ham, editor at large of HotAir; Tucker Carlson, founder of The Daily Caller; Jennifer Braceras, a columnist at the Boston Herald; Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots; Kristen Soltis Anderson, a columnist and pollster; and Brent Bozell, founder and president of the Media Research Center.

“Facebook has a serious problem,” Bozell said in a statement issued before the meeting. “Trust is everything and now conservatives don’t trust them. My hope is that today’s meeting will begin to put concerns to rest.”

One prominent outlet, however, dismissed Facebook’s overture before the meeting even began: The conservative news site Breitbart lambasted Zuckerberg for holding what amounted to a “photo op.”
Some conservatives criticized the fact that the Zuckerberg meeting was private, even though Facebook convened it to emphasize its commitment to transparency. Reporters weren’t permitted to attend, and Facebook didn’t livestream any portion of the proceedings online.

“Facebook puts a lot of pressure [on users] to be transparent, to be social, to be open to be using video,” said Vincent Harris, a top GOP strategist, in an interview earlier this week. Stressing that the company could be “using their wonderful new Facebook Live feature,” he added, “Why are we having a closed door meeting about this?”

Hoping to further court the company’s newest skeptics, Facebook on Wednesday also offered the visiting conservatives a deep dive into how its news gathering works and a roughly hourlong tour of the company’s sprawling campus. And it even gave them the chance to try some of its technology, such as its virtual reality headset, the Oculus Rift, according to schedule details obtained by POLITICO.

Afterward, some attendees described the meeting as positive: Cupp, from CNN, tweeted the group heard “strong commitments to address issues, as well as to work together on common goals.”

Since last week’s Gizmodo report, Facebook has taken flak from the Republican National Committee, which accused the company of “conservative censorship,” and from the Senate Commerce Committee, which pressed the social network to detail its news publishing practices. (Trump, who has used social media to fuel his presidential campaign, has yet to weigh in publicly.)

As it has scrambled to contain the political damage, Facebook has strongly rebutted the allegations while insisting that it is a neutral news platform — even as it has disclosed a previously unrevealed level of human intervention in the selection of stories for the “Trending” feature. The company over the past week has published its editorial guidelines, promised to answer lawmakers’ questions and methodically reached out to the RNC and other Republican organizations as it tries to preserve its crucial D.C. relationships.

Complicating the dispute is Zuckerberg’s history of liberal-leaning stances, including his push for immigration reform, his support for same-sex marriage and Facebook’s decision earlier this year to ban gun sales on its site. But the company has also tried in recent years to bolster its conservative ties, including hiring former George W. Bush adviser Joel Kaplan as its global public policy director.

This year, it is also participating in both the Republican and Democratic national conventions, despite calls by liberal activists for companies to boycott the GOP gathering because of Trump’s remarks about women and minorities — and Zuckerberg’s own opposition to the Republican front-runner’s policy positions.

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