A day after Facebook held firm on its decision to allow factual errors in paid political ads on its platform, the company’s founder may have opened up his laptop on Thursday to read an open letter from the writer behind The Social Network.
Aaron Sorkin wrote to mogul Mark Zuckerberg, entreating that “this can’t possibly be the outcome you and I want, to have crazy lies pumped into the water supply that corrupt the most important decisions we make together.” He added that the company’s stance is akin to “assaulting truth.”
In the letter, published as an opinion column in The New York Times, Sorkin writes, “Half of all Americans say Facebook is their main source of news. Of course the problem could be solved by those people going to a different news source, or you could decide to make Facebook a reliable source of public information.”
After resistance from Zuckerberg in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election — during which the platform was criticized for disseminating demonstrably false news in its news feed — Facebook has taken steps to placate media concerns.
On Oct. 25, the social media giant launched Facebook News — a section of the site featuring syndicated content from featured news brands, from Fox News to Bloomberg, some of whom will be paid partners. (And the company has courted some of its fiercest longtime critics. News Corp CEO Robert Thomson appeared at the New York launch event for the news tab along with Zuckerberg.)
Facebook, which reported earnings on Oct. 30 and disclosed that it had 2.45 billion monthly active users, has said that it wants to bring more “transparency” to political advertising. “Our values on voice and free expression are not partisan. But, unfortunately, in our current environment, a lot of people look at every decision through the lens of whether it will help or hurt the candidate they want,” Zuckerberg said on an earnings call.
The same day that Facebook disclosed earnings results, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey pledged to ban political advertisements from his social platform. “While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions,” Dorsey tweeted.
In his letter in the Times, Sorkin raised the specter of further regulation for the social media giant. “The law hasn’t been written yet — yet — that holds carriers of user-generated internet content responsible for the user-generated content they carry, just like movie studios, television networks and book, magazine and newspaper publishers,” the director wrote.
Sorkin’s criticism of Zuckerberg extends all the way back to the making of Sony’s The Social Network, which starred Jesse Eisenberg and chronicled the founding of Facebook at Harvard and the origins of the company’s fight with the Winklevoss twins. Zuckerberg called the drama “fiction.”
A month before the David Fincher-directed project hit theaters in Oct. 2010, Zuckerberg donated $100 million to public schools in New Jersey. The film — which ran the tagline “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies” on posters — ended up grossing $224 million worldwide and getting nominated for eight Oscars at the 83rd Academy Awards, including best picture.
Zuckerberg, in the Oct. 30 earnings call, had set expectations for his company to be the target of government scrutiny in 2020 in the lead-up to the next U.S. presidential election. He said, “I expect that this is going to be a very tough year,” adding, “This is complex stuff, and anyone who says that the answers are simple hasn’t thought long enough about all the nuances.”
After the publication of the open letter, Zuckerberg responded to Sorkin on Thursday by Facebook post, choosing to quote Sorkin’s script for 1995’s Michael Douglas drama The American President: “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil.”