Sep 20, 2019

Zuckerberg's D.C. charm tour

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaving a meeting with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), followed by Facebook VP of global public policy Joel Kaplan. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with key senators and then visited President Trump at the White House Thursday, as his company navigates an increasingly dense maze of antitrust probes and regulatory initiatives.

Why it matters: With this week's private dinners, senatorial sit-downs and presidential audience, Zuckerberg aims to move Facebook beyond playing defense and toward a meaningful dialogue on regulating the internet, sources tell Axios.

The big picture: This was Zuckerberg's first known visit to the capital since March 2018, when he defended Facebook in tense public testimony during the Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal. Zuckerberg cut a very different profile this time — less CEO in the hot seat than visiting potentate handling weighty matters.

Driving the news: The unannounced White House meeting, first reported by Axios' Mike Allen, was the first time Trump and Zuckerberg have met in person.

  • Sheryl Sandberg attended Trump's first tech summit in December 2016, and Zuckerberg was supposed to join the next one in June 2017 but canceled.
  • Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and White House social media director Dan Scavino were also in the room, per Bloomberg.
  • A Facebook statement described the meeting as "constructive." Trump tweeted afterwards that it was "nice."

Zuckerberg's goal for the visit: Get across the points he'd made in a Washington Post op-ed earlier this year, arguing that the internet needs new rules covering "harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability."

Senators' goals varied:

  • Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who organized a Wednesday dinner, has been involved in the effort to craft new national online privacy rules.
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), also at the dinner, has been outspoken on antitrust issues.
  • Zuckerberg undoubtedly heard from the GOP senators he met with about complaints that Facebook's content moderation is biased against conservatives.
  • Iciest moment: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee, urged Zuckerberg to sell off Instagram and WhatsApp, according to CNBC. Hawley: "He was not receptive."
  • Per the Washington Post, Zuckerberg told lawmakers Wednesday that Libra, Facebook's plan to create its own cryptocurrency, will not launch anywhere around the globe until it wins approval from U.S. regulators.

What's next:

  • Zuckerberg's D.C. meetings continue Friday.
  • The company faces deadlines in coming weeks to produce documents for inquiries by the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, the House Judiciary Committee, and a coalition of 50 attorneys general for nearly every state.

Go deeper: The growing list of U.S. government inquiries into Big Tech

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