Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is in many ways an enemy of free and fair journalism, but that won’t stop him from pushing out a nauseating photo op accompanied by meaningless drivel about his appreciation for journalists.
In what one Twitter user perfectly described as Zuckerberg’s “eat pray love bullshit to start building his political career,” Zuck recently logged another entry for his New Year’s resolution to visit all 50 states. The latest edition saw Zuck and his wife Priscilla Chan visit some local newspapers in Alabama.
“It seems like a good time to say thank you to all the journalists around the world who work tirelessly and sometimes put their lives in danger to surface the truth,” Zuck wrote. “I don’t always agree with everything you say, but that’s how democracy is supposed to work.” Oh, well, thank you, Mark.
The problem, of course, is that Zuckerberg and Facebook have a long, complicated, and often adversarial relationship with the press, and they haven’t exactly tried to hide their feelings about journalism.
Zuckerberg has bragged about firing someone for leaking information to the press, and announced their firing to the company at an all hands meeting. From Recode:
News of Facebook’s previously secret messaging assistant, M, had leaked earlier that week to the press. The Facebook CEO made a promise to his employees: We’re going to find the leaker, and we’re going to fire them.
At another company meeting a week later, Zuckerberg delivered an update: The culprit, he said, had been caught and fired. Many of those in attendance applauded.
Just like other Silicon Valley companies, Facebook requires employees to sign far reaching and indefinite non-disclosure agreements that prohibit employees from speaking to the press. This is useful when Facebook wants to characterise a critical report on the company as less trustworthy because it uses anonymous sources, glossing over the significant potential financial and personal ramifications that would come from being named in the story and thereby breaking Facebook’s NDA.
Zuckerberg, the fifth richest person in the world, has also built a corporate behemoth—one which he insisted for a very long time wasn’t a media company, before finally admitting the obvious—that has helped spread hoaxes and falsehoods to millions of people. The fake news problem surfaced in the wake of the 2016 election, during which bullshit stories and conspiracy theory-peddling websites popped up frequently. When confronted about this problem of fake news and its effects on our recent presidential election, Zuckerberg dismissed it as a “crazy idea.” Of course, Facebook soon relented, admitting that maybe—maybe!—it does have a problem with misinformation. It’s since instituted a number of measures to prevent the spread of fake news, including a fact-checking operation, but the fake news problem still served to undermine the work of reporters everywhere, particularly when you consider how many people get their news from Facebook.
Facebook’s problems with hoaxes also popped up in one of its biggest headaches of 2016—a number of stories about its Trending news module. In fact, the trending news debacle was further proof of how the company misrepresented its activities to the press. In 2015, the company told Recode that its Trending module was dictated and controlled by algorithms. The company claimed the Trending module listed “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook,” when it reality, it was curated by an army of poorly-treated contractors who had the ability to inject a story into the Trending module. Facebook eventually fired its human news curators and essentially let the feature go to shit.
The company also has questionable standards for what it considers newsworthy. When Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten posted a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a burned Vietnamese child running away from a napalm attack—something that would fit presumably fit squarely within Zuck’s parameters for surfacing the truth—a Facebook spokesperson likened it to “child pornography.” The post was later reinstated.
And who could forget what happened when reporters wrote about Zuck’s plan to sue hundreds of native Hawaiians in order to secure the huge swath of oceanside land he purchased for $100 million? Oh, right: He personally dismissed their work as “misleading stories about our plans in Hawaii.” A week later, Zuckerberg retracted his plan and subsequently apologised to the Hawaiian people.
At the end of the day, Zuckerberg may like to say he likes journalists—just as long as they’re not sniffing around Facebook, that is.