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Facebook : How Mark Zuckerberg Learned Politics -2-

10/16/2020 | 09:15am EST

He also recently cultivated relationships with prominent conservatives with the help of longtime board member Peter Thiel, a prominent Trump backer, and his global head of policy, Joel Kaplan, a former deputy chief of staff to George W. Bush.

Mr. Zuckerberg maintains an open line with Mr. Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser. The two sometimes discuss Facebook policies over WhatsApp. The CEO spoke this year with Mr. Kushner and separately with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about TikTok's U.S. presence, people familiar with the talks said.

"Any insinuation that [Mr. Zuckerberg] encouraged the Administration to ban TikTok is false," a Facebook spokesman said.

Mr. Zuckerberg has also told government officials Apple doesn't receive as much scrutiny as Facebook even though it owns an operating system used by a large percentage of Americans, people familiar with the discussions said.

As tech platforms announced new political-content policies over the past year, Mr. Kushner has argued to Mr. Zuckerberg that some of those moves could hurt Republican and Democratic campaigns alike, people familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Zuckerberg also has forged ties with right-leaning publishers that drive engagement on the platform, including Ben Shapiro, co-founder of the Daily Wire and a Trump supporter, people familiar with the matter say. The conservative news site has been flagged repeatedly by Facebook's fact-checkers for sharing falsehoods and distortions. But it is frequently among the most popular on the platform based on user interactions, according to CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned analytics tool.

Mr. Zuckerberg invited Mr. Shapiro to dinner at his house last year, the people said. While the two aren't friends, they sometimes discuss broader political and philosophical themes, the people added, many of which they disagree on.

Mr. Shapiro said in a statement that he doesn't comment on people he speaks with because many in the media try to "stigmatize open communications between conservatives and anyone who differs politically."

In late 2017, when Facebook tweaked its newsfeed algorithm to minimize the presence of political news, policy executives were concerned about the outsize impact of the changes on the right, including the Daily Wire, people familiar with the matter said. Engineers redesigned their intended changes so that left-leaning sites like Mother Jones were affected more than previously planned, the people said. Mr. Zuckerberg approved the plans. "We did not make changes with the intent of impacting individual publishers," a Facebook spokesman said.

"I have not found any relationship at Facebook to be particularly beneficial to our business," said Jeremy Boreing, co-founder and co-CEO at the Daily Wire. He also said Facebook's fact-checking program, announced in December of 2016, has caused "serious losses" for the Daily Wire, which depends on Facebook for traffic, and thus ad revenue, adding that the fact checks are sometimes "wholly inaccurate."

Some on the left believe Mr. Zuckerberg has been less accommodating to news sites that promote a progressive agenda.

After the launch last year of Courier Newsroom, a network of eight progressive local-news sites that is part-owned by a left-leaning nonprofit with close ties to Democratic donors, Mr. Zuckerberg argued that Courier wasn't a real news outlet, given its political connections, according to people familiar with his views.

The discussion sparked a new Facebook policy in August that limits the reach of partisan-backed sites by blocking their pages from inclusion in Facebook News, restricting their access to the Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp platforms and curtailing their advertising.

The nonprofit behind Courier Newsroom, called Acronym, criticized the policy, saying it favors conservative news sources.

Mr. Zuckerberg has also begun meeting with progressive groups, whose leaders argued that if he was developing personal relationships with conservatives like Mr. Shapiro, he should hear from the other side, too. The conversations haven't always gone smoothly.

Rashad Robinson, president of the civil-rights group Color of Change, said that Mr. Zuckerberg appeared to lack an understanding of the ways Facebook could be contributing to voter suppression.

"I was talking to someone with such tremendous power but was not serious or educated about the issues," Mr. Robinson said, "and was deeply ill-equipped and unqualified for the task at hand."

Mr. Zuckerberg also has been trying to steer a safe political course at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the for-profit charitable and investment organization he oversees with his wife, Priscilla Chan.

In recent years, officials at the nonpartisan organization, known as CZI, have increasingly grown wary of projects that might be seen as overtly political, according to people familiar with the matter.

"We fund a lot of really progressive groups on the left, and also groups in the center and on the right, and in between," the organization said.

One casualty was a plan to aggressively pursue immigration reform with the Trump administration, according to a person with direct knowledge of the work. In 2018, during the family-separation crisis, employees at CZI discussed absorbing Fwd.US, the immigration and criminal-justice reform nonprofit Mr. Zuckerberg co-founded in 2013, and other ways to tackle reform.

A few months later, Mr. Zuckerberg told employees that the immigration issue was "too hot," the person said. CZI decided against taking over Fwd.US., though it still funds the group while focusing on its own work on more bipartisan issues like affordable housing and criminal-justice reform.

David Plouffe, a former Obama administration adviser who was a top CZI official until 2019, said CZI opted not to pursue the additional immigration work because Fwd.US had already devoted considerable resources to the issue. A CZI spokeswoman said its broader immigration-reform program is in its early stages and it funds groups focused on family separation.

At Facebook, Mr. Zuckerberg's greater involvement in politics shifted the dynamic between him and Ms. Sandberg, his longtime second in command, who endorsed former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's 2016 bid.

Ms. Sandberg has told some colleagues and associates that she disagrees with certain Facebook decisions about political content, including the move last spring not to take down a video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that had been manipulated in a way that made her appear to be drunk, according to people familiar with the matter.

Ms. Sandberg argued for the video's removal but Mr. Zuckerberg believed making the video less visible across the platform was a better route, the people said. At a Facebook-sponsored event last year, Ms. Sandberg said she and Mr. Zuckerberg "disagree all the time but we tell each other and support each other," according to a video of the event viewed by the Journal.

Some of Ms. Sandberg's colleagues have heard her use an expression that underscores the shifting balance of power between the two executives, who were long regarded inside and outside the company as nearly equals. Now, according to these people, she sometimes says: "I serve at the pleasure of Mark and the board."

Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com and Emily Glazer at emily.glazer@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

10-16-20 0914ET

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Sales 2020 83 587 M - -
Net income 2020 26 870 M - -
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P/E ratio 2020 30,7x
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