Warren raises "corruption" alarm after Trump, Zuckerberg, and Thiel hold secret White House meeting

"This is how the government keeps working for giant corporations and the wealthy and well-connected."

Published November 22, 2019 7:30AM (EST)

Peter Thiel (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Peter Thiel (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren issued warnings of corruption Thursday morning after it was reported that Facebook founder and CEO, along with company board member and right-wing billionaire Peter Thiel, enjoyed a recent secret White House meeting with President Donald Trump.

NBC News broke the story late Wednesday, reporting that Facebook confirmed the meeting took place in October while Zuckerberg was in Washington, D.C. to testify before Congress. Facebook board member Peter Thiel, a major Trump donor and the recipient of numerous government contracts for his company's data-mining workunder the Trump administration, also attended the dinner.

Warren seized on the news, accusing Zuckerberg of "going on a charm offensive with Republican lawmakers" as law enforcement agencies investigate whether Facebook has violated antitrust laws.

"This is corruption, plain and simple," Warren tweeted.

The senator pointed to the dinner as an example of the kind of corporate activities with the federal government she wouldn't allow as president should she win the 2020 presidential election.

"I won't cozy up to Facebook when I'm president," Warren tweeted. "It's time to root out corruption in Washington. Until we do, we won't be able to make any progress on any of the issues that matter to us."

A Facebook spokesperson told NBC that the dinner was a "normal" occurrence for the CEO of a major company, but Buzzfeed technology reporter Alex Kantrowitz tweeted that the secretive presidential dinner with two Silicon Valley billionaires who largely control a media platform used by about 70 percent of Americans should raise doubts about Facebook's claims of commitment to "political transparency." 

"It's normal for CEOs and heads of state to meet, yes," Kantroqitz wrote. "But given Facebook's political power, this one should've been easy: Just disclose it."

The meeting between Zuckerberg, Thiel, and Trump took place when the Facebook CEO was in Washington to testify about a number of issues related to the company, including its decision to allow political ads to be posted on its platform without imposing rigorous fact-checking standards.

The dinner "took place right as Zuck defended Facebook's decision to let politicians buy the right to lie on its platform," tweeted journalist Caroline Orr.

Entrepreneur Elizabeth McLaughlin noted that amid the attention Zuckerberg's talks with Trump have gotten, the potential significance of Thiel's involvement shouldn't be disregarded. Thiel is a co-founder of Palantir, which provided profiling tools to the government last year as ICE was ramping up raids in immigrant communities and deportations.

"Palantir is engaged in tracking of people and populations the Trump administration despises and when you put Palantir and Facebook together, you've got a data operation the Nazis would have adored," McLaughlin tweeted.

The meeting took place as Facebook is facing scrutiny over its partnerships with far-right news outlets including Breitbart News and The Daily Caller, prompting Mashabletechnology reporter Matt Binder to call Facebook "the right wing's social network" in an article he re-posted in response to NBC's report.

"It's impossible to give Facebook the benefit of the doubt over its recent choices," Binder wrote. "Zuckerberg appears to have made calculated decisions and, with that, the transformation of Facebook is complete. The right wing has its own social network now."

By Julia Conley

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

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