Given that Donald Trump has publicly suggested shutting down the Internet, it’s no surprise that tech companies aren’t the biggest fans of the Republican frontrunner for this year’s presidential election. Historically liberal California certainly doesn’t seem like a particularly strong base for the New York real estate mogul, and apparently, that’s especially true in the tech capital of Silicon Valley. As it turns out, employees within social media giant Facebook have been toying with the notion of using Facebook resources to prevent a Trump presidency, and they have asked CEO Mark Zuckerberg if such a course of action is acceptable. His answer, and that of the company, is a resounding “no.”
Updated on 4-17-2016 by Lulu Chang: Facebook refutes claims that it will interfere in any way with the 2016 presidential election.
On a weekly basis, the social network circulates a company-wide poll asking Facebookers what they’d like to ask their fearless leader in upcoming Q&A sessions. And at the March 4 session, the fifth most popular question was, “What responsibility does Facebook have to help prevent President Trump in 2017?”
It’s not a surprising question, given the ideological makeup of most tech companies, but it does carry important implications. Facebook, needless to say, is one of the most powerful entities in the world. With over one billion active daily users, the social network is much more than a place where we exchange pleasantries — rather, it’s become the platform for the broadest range of social interaction. From advertising to media outlets, just about everyone has discovered the power of connectivity, putting Facebook in an extremely lucrative and influential position.
But in a statement, the company has assuaged all fears, noting, “We as a company are neutral. We have not and will not use our products in a way that attempts to influence how people vote.”
While the company may be able to “promote or block any material that it wants,” as UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh tells Gizmodo, that doesn’t mean that it will. Sure, Volokh points out, “Facebook has the same First Amendment right as the New York Times. They can completely block Trump if they want. They can block him or promote him.” But the social network has insisted that it will do no such thing — on either front.
Facebook has certainly been a powerful force in elections before. Indeed, the site is one of the most powerful predictors of poll results, and is a major proponent of getting out the vote. There’s the “I Voted” button the company placed on 98 percent of user’s profiles in 2010, and in 2012, the company tweaked users’ newsfeeds in an attempt to improve civic engagement. Newsflash: it worked.
But while the company wants people to vote, it doesn’t really care on whose behalf the ballots are cast. “Voting is a core value of democracy and we believe that supporting civic participation is an important contribution we can make to the community,” Facebook said in its statement. “We encourage any and all candidates, groups and voters to use our platform to share their views on the election and debate the issues.”
Still, according to Volokh, if the platform were to go against Trump, it would be totally legal. “If they’re just saying, ‘We don’t want Trump material on our site,’ they have every right to do that. It’s protected by the First Amendment.”