This week I went to a meeting at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California. And then I became a bimbo, a cancer, and a scumbag. Behold Twitter:
@HenrySwissinger: @secupp @CNN @facebook Bimbo
@Animal1984Farm: @secupp @CNN @facebook #NeverTrump cucks are a cancer. Some people love to be used and abused!
@I_the_Prattler: @secupp <she is the EPITOME of everything that’s wrong with the CORRUPT @GOP edifice These #scumbags help to keep in power the corrupt! @CNN
To be clear, I am a conservative, and these tweets are from other self-described conservatives (or, at the very least, Donald Trump supporters).
As has become boringly predictable these days, conservatives are mad at other conservatives for being fake conservatives.
In case you have a life, and haven’t cared to invest in the soap-operatic, teenage dramas between certain factions of the conservative movement (in which case, I’m envious), let me give you the basic synopsis:
Trump is the only true conservative, and everyone who opposes him is the “establishment.”
Questioning the Trump orthodoxy (which, incidentally, is rarely intelligible if ever at all conservative) is the thing that now makes a conservative a “cuckservative,” a pejorative term to describe a weak, emasculated “sell out” to the establishment wing of the party. This now includes conservatives like me, with previously pristine records of right-wing fanaticism, at least as classified by the mainstream press, and ranging from Glenn Beck to the National Review, Ted Cruz to Paul Ryan.
What’s this got to do with Facebook? A lot, it would seem.
In this kind of climate, where a lifelong Democrat and former Hillary Clinton donor is now the standard-bearer of authentic conservatism and everyone else a loser and a traitor, creating tribal lines of division is nothing short of a fetish, and one that has spilled over into the Facebook debate.
After allegations surfaced that former Facebook contractors suppressed conservative trending topics, the company launched an investigation, promised transparency, and then reached out to several conservative thought leaders and personalities, including myself, to sit down and address these and other concerns with founder Mark Zuckerberg and top members of his executive team.
Presumably, there would be two kinds of responses to this invitation:
“I accept. This is a disturbing issue and I want to be part of solving the problem.”
Or, “I regretfully decline. That’s the day of my grandmother’s funeral.”
I’ll get back to the importance of attending this meeting in a minute. But first…
I was surprised to learn there is apparently another option, which was to refuse to go, complain that no Trump representatives were invited (they were, one attended), slam Facebook’s overture as a “pat conservatives on the head” session, blast the people who do attend as “cucks” and sit in the corner and sulk.
Which is what a number of invitees decided, disappointingly.
Breitbart, long in the tank for Trump, said it had no interest in participating in a “Facebook photo op.” One headline blared: “Cucked by Zuck: Establishment Conservatives Rock Up for Pointless Meeting with Facebook,” already deciding the outcome.
The American Conservative Union, which oversees the popular CPAC convention every year, issued a statement saying it would not attend, and then listed all of its grievances with Facebook’s alleged anti-conservative bias, which included rejecting “ACU’s overtures for Facebook to play a meaningful role at CPAC.”
Other outlets jumped on the people who did decide to attend, calling them “conservatives” in quotes.
Drudge Report: “Facebook: Anti-Trump ‘Conservatives’ to Meet with Zuckerberg.”
Fox News’ Charles Payne tweeted, “Mark Zuckerberg to meet w/ ‘conservative’ leaders.”
Is the important story that Facebook is meeting with conservatives? Or that it’s meeting with “conservatives”?
Distrust predates Trump
This is not to suggest all of this is just about Trump. The distrust of Facebook and Silicon Valley among conservatives is real and hardly new. Most of the faces of the tech companies are outspoken liberals. Facebook has in the past had to defend against allegations that conservatives and conservative stories don’t get as much reach as liberal stories, or as they do on other social platforms. I understand skepticism. Skepticism is my job.
I’m also not naive. Of course this was part of a PR strategy for Facebook. You don’t publicly invite a group of aggrieved people with large platforms to come to your fabled, sprawling campus and meet with the head honcho if you don’t hope they will then go back to their large platforms and spread the good word.
But isn’t the fact that Facebook considers this a PR problem (as well as an actual problem, I believe) proof that it does not want to be perceived as a liberal organization? If it really didn’t care about attracting and retaining conservative users, why would it need damage control?
And if you have genuine concerns about bias and bad actors, don’t you take an opportunity to help correct a problem?
The bottom line is, staying home solves zero problems. And in fact, it creates one.
My reason for attending the meeting was two-fold. One, I am deeply concerned about the effect of bias — whether intentional or subconscious — in alienating any group of people based on their beliefs, in this case mine.
Zuckerberg and his team assured us they were investigating that issue, take it very seriously, and do not have any evidence it is systemic. The mission of Facebook is to provide as big a platform to as many people as possible. Subverting voices is anathema to that mission (as well as its business model, more to the point).
This is a problem. I hope it is addressed. But I am frankly more concerned about conservatives’ long-term relationship with Silicon Valley.
The perception that Silicon Valley is liberal exists for a reason. It largely is, but only to the extent that anyone in tech ever gives politics a thought. The tech world’s most vocal political voices lean left on social issues, but your average programmer and developer are probably more libertarian than liberal. And when pressed, even your average executive would align more closely with the right on issues that are crucial to their own industry.
Why Facebook needs conservatives
On issues like security, privacy, regulation and free markets, Silicon Valley has allies in conservative policies, not liberal ones. When I mentioned this in our meeting, there was broad agreement from the Facebook side that liberals have at times been more than just a pain on these issues, they’ve been a threat to their best interests.
Silicon Valley, and in particular the share economy leaders, need conservatives on the Hill, on K Street, and in the media to keep their markets free and their products innovative. Tech leaders ignored this simple fact for years, but are finally realizing Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton may share their attitudes on gay marriage, but not regulation. Which matters more to their bottom line?
But the questions the Facebook-objectors seem to be asking is, Does conservatism need Facebook and Silicon Valley? Well, only if wants to survive.
Forgetting the fact that Facebook has 1.7 billion users and no one reads books or newspapers on paper anymore, conservatives have been combating the image that they are stuck in the past for, well, as long as there’s been a past to be stuck in. Conservatives should be leading the way on innovation, instead of constantly ceding that ground to the “hipster progressives with their gadgets and watch-phones.”
Why we need Facebook
Instead of insisting conservatism and Silicon Valley are East and West Berlin, ideologically exclusive and wholly uninterested in one another, both need to acknowledge each other’s necessity. I went to this meeting because I want lifelong partnerships in Silicon Valley to connect conservative values and policies with as many people as possible, to make the world work more efficiently, to innovate around government bureaucracy and to empower the private sector.
And I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Facebook wants partnerships with conservatives as well. For that, they will need our trust. And to earn our trust, we will need their respect.
This is all a work in progress, and it will take time, open lines of communication and transparency. But progress is impossible when parties decide to stay home.
I was glad Facebook reached out to us, and would have been just as happy had I not been included. This meeting was a necessary step in the right direction — toward an alliance between two communities whose shared obsession with free markets could do a lot of good for a lot of people.