GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz files a criminal referral against Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg with William Barr

Without evidence, Gaetz claims that the CEO lied when he told Congress Facebook wasn't biased against conservatives

Published July 28, 2020 7:38PM (EDT)

Matt Gaetz and Mark Zuckerberg (Getty Images/Salon)
Matt Gaetz and Mark Zuckerberg (Getty Images/Salon)

Update: Project Veritas disputed the characterization of their videos in this article and provided an on-the-record comment after publication. This article has been updated accordingly.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., on Monday asked Attorney General William Barr to open a criminal investigation into Mark Zuckerberg over allegations that the Facebook CEO lied to Congress.

In a letter to Barr, Gaetz accused the social media executive of making false statements to Congress on two occasions in 2018. He alleged that Zuckerberg "repeatedly and categorically denied any bias against conservative speech, persons, policies or politics" on his platform.

"On both occasions, members of Congress asked Mr. Zuckerberg about allegations that Facebook censored and suppressed content supportive of President Donald Trump and other conservatives," Gaetz wrote.

"Mr. Zuckerberg also dismissed the suggestion that Facebook exercises any form of editorial manipulation," he added.

Zuckerberg made the remarks in 2018 under questioning from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., who accused Facebook of "bias and censorship." Cruz cited a 2016 Gizmodo revealing allegations that the social media platform had knowingly suppressing conservative news. Zuckerberg responded:

I understand where that concern is coming from, because Facebook and the tech industry are located in Silicon Valley, which is an extremely left-leaning place. And this is actually a concern that I have, and that I try to root out in the company, is making sure that we don't have any bias in the work that we do. And I think it is a fair concern that people would at least wonder about.

As evidence to support his claims, Gaetz directed Barr to a recent sting by Project Veritas, an organization known for its efforts to take down liberal organizations, mainstream media outlets and public figures through videos that have been criticized as inaccurate. In a statement, CEO James O'Keefe disputed the criticism, saying, "Not a single one of our videos has been proven to be deceptively edited or taken out of context."

Project Veritas published hidden-camera footage of purported Facebook content moderators apparently admitting that they delete conservative posts.  Gaetz says the "whistleblowers" in the video offer "ample evidence" of the company's "bias and manipulation."

"According to the Veritas report and undercover footage, the adjudicators were outspoken about their political bias against Republicans and actively chose to eliminate otherwise-allowable content from the platform and from public view simply due to its political orientation," Gaetz wrote.

"At the same time," Gaetz added, "speech promoting violence against the president and his supporters was labeled as merely 'political,' and was thus allowed to stay on the platform."

The Republican representative also claims, without citing evidence, that Facebook's artificial intelligence content screening program is itself not politically neutral, which he alleges is a violation of the "good faith" provision of the Communications Decency Act.

Republicans — from internet trolls, up to lawmakers and President Donald Trump himself — regularly accuse Facebook and other social media platforms of anti-conservative bias.

However, Facebook launched its own project in the weeks after the 2016 election — "Project P," for propaganda — which found dozens of pages peddling fake news ahead of Trump's victory. Nearly all the pages were based overseas, had financial motives and "displayed a clear rightward bent," according to the Washington Post.

Another reason why moderators may encounter a higher volume of flagged conservative content is because Facebook's most popular content has become overwhelmingly conservative over time. "Facebook has become the home of right-wing America, while Twitter and Snap have become the home of the left," Vanity Fair's Nick Bilton reported earlier this year.

And while liberals have criticized Facebook for refusing to fact-check political ads — and even threatened to break up the social media platform — a number of leading conservatives have reportedly met in secret with Zuckerberg, including Tucker Carlson, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and on at least one occasion, Trump himself. Zuckerberg has not disclosed the content of those meetings.

Matt Gaetz did not respond to Salon's request for comment. Facebook declined to comment.

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

MORE FROM Roger Sollenberger

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Facebook Florida Mark Zuckerberg Matt Gaetz Republicans Social Media William Barr