Should Facebook Tout Republicans? (2011 Jun)

by Barry A. Liebling

What could you gain by asking a fabulously wealthy, world-famous leftist to do something you are sure he will decline? His refusal might reveal his true nature.

In April 2011 Facebook helped to launch President Obama’s reelection campaign. The world’s most influential social networking website hosted a Town Hall meeting where President Obama made his case to potential voters with the active participation of a fawning Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, founder, and largest stockholder. Mr Zuckerberg’s political orientation is not difficult to figure out. He has been an outspoken supporter of the President for a long time and certainly will strive to help him realize another four years in office.

There is no surprise here. You expect leftist businessmen to support leftist politicians in general and an interventionist Democratic President in particular. Conversely, you anticipate that business professionals who are ardently free-market will back candidates who are sympathetic to capitalism. So, what could be disturbing about Mr Zuckerberg’s endorsement?

The editors of the conservative free-market magazine and website Human Events are disturbed. For more than a month its home page website has featured the item “Stop Facebook from Stealing Another Election NOW!” Readers are asked to sign a petition urging Mr Zuckerberg to recognize his opportunity and responsibility to “invite the eventual Republican presidential nominee to share the stage [with you] at a Town Hall event identical to that [which you] held for President (and candidate) Obama.” As of this writing there are nearly 27,000 signatories.

Does the Human Events request have merit? Perhaps.

Consider Facebook’s genuine obligations. It is a private company, operating via the internet, and is not legally subject to the Equal Time rule that broadcast media must follow. Its owners have the right to express themselves anyway they want. If they wish to push the Democratic Party agenda they may do so. They are free to participate in a forum with their political adversaries. But Facebook owners have no duty to host an event and share the stage with politicians whose views are antithetical to their own. If they wanted to shut their political opponents out of Facebook altogether they could, although this is unlikely because Facebook management would loathe the almost certain public backlash.

Note that Facebook has many Republican members who are able to use the Facebook venue to host their own Town Hall meeting – without any participation by Mark Zuckerberg.

If Facebook management were to sponsor a Town Hall event featuring the Republican candidate could it be advantageous to President Obama? Yes, but not necessarily. If the Republican nominee is not well spoken or has weak arguments, exposing the candidate to the vast Facebook audience could convince voters who are on the fence that the President should be reelected. The event could inoculate viewers against the Republican nominee – just as a vaccine can protect against disease. Alternatively, the opposite outcome is possible. An articulate, charming, well-reasoned Republican might win the audience over and hurt the President’s prospects.

So how does it make sense for the editors of Human Events to make a request that Facebook will almost certainly ignore? The petition is a satire, not meant to be taken literally. In the open letter the term “equal time” is bracketed with scare quotes – indicating the writers’ lack of respect for the concept. The Human Events website describes itself as committed to the “principles of free enterprise, limited government and, above all, a staunch, unwavering defense of American freedom.” Of course if they mean what they write they do not believe that Facebook owes the Republicans anything. The Human Events request is a facetious joke.

The joke is funny because it is characteristic of the “progressive” mindset to meddle in the affairs of media establishments. Policies such as “Equal Time” and the “Fairness Doctrine” are endorsed by those who want the government to assure that private media companies make room for their adversaries – especially those that lean left. Of course when the medium – such as the colossus Facebook – is owned and controlled by progressives it is no longer essential to provide balanced coverage. When Facebook fails to respond it will validate the Human Events suspicion that one wealthy, famous leftist does not follow the same rules that he advocates for others.

The Human Events people do not anticipate that Mark Zuckerberg will comply with their petition. They expect him to disclose his spirit.

*** See other entries at in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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