Zuckerberg Calls Rumors of a Secret Deal With Donald Trump 'Pretty Ridiculous'

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has rejected the suggestion he has a secretive deal with Donald Trump, calling the idea "pretty ridiculous."

Speculation about an "understanding" in place between Facebook and the White House surged last month after The New York Times reported on a meeting the billionaire CEO held with the president and Facebook board member Peter Thiel last October.

Questions regarding the relationship between the administration and the social network came after a controversial post by Trump that appeared to suggest the use of state violence against citizens was left untouched, fueling rampant criticism.

Now, in comments made to Axios co-founder Michael Allen, Zuckerberg has responded to the rumors head-on, saying he was aware of the rising conjecture.

"Let me be clear: There's no deal of any kind," Zuckerberg said. "Actually, the whole idea of a deal is pretty ridiculous. I do speak with the president from time to time, just like I spoke with our last president and political leaders around the world."

The Facebook founder noted that under Trump his platform was targeted by the signing of an executive order threatening to reduce legal protections under Section 230, which helps tech firms against being liable for content uploaded by its users.

According to Axios, Zuckerberg also addressed murmurs of a secretive deal with Trump during a "company-wide" staff meeting last Thursday.

The CEO reportedly told employees: "One specific critique that I've seen is that there are a lot of people who've said that maybe we're too sympathetic or too close in some way to the Trump administration. I just want to push back on that a bit. We need to separate out the fact of giving people some space for discourse, from the positions that we have individually, where I feel like the company and I personally have been."

Reporting on the 2019 Trump-Zuckerberg meeting, The New York Times had noted how Facebook appeared more lenient toward Trump than other platforms. For comparison, Twitter had started to flag and label the president's policy-breaking posts.

Roger McName, an early investor in Facebook, told the newspaper: "I believe they have a deal... probably implied rather than explicit."

He suggested a deal would benefit both parties: Trump's need for ads and Zuckerberg's need to not be harshly regulated.

But speaking to Axios, Zuckerberg rejected that, too. "I accepted the invite for dinner because I was in town and he is the president of the United States," he said.

"For what it's worth, I also had multiple meals and meetings with President Obama... both at the White House and outside. The fact that I met with a head of state should not be surprising, and does not suggest we have some kind of deal," he added.

Last month, as the Facebook boss faced criticism for deciding not to remove a Trump tweet that included the phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," it emerged Zuckerberg directly spoke to the White House after it came to his attention.

Explaining the timeline, Zuckerberg told employees: "Earlier in the morning, our policy team reached out to make sure that the White House understood the policies and to express concern about the post and whether or not it violated our policies.

"They escalated on their side and later in the day, after the decision had basically been made about how we should handle the content, the president called me. And I used that opportunity to make sure that he understood directly how I felt about the content."

A transcript of a video call held with staff about the situation was published by Recode. As a widespread ad boycott hit the social network last month, Facebook confirmed it would start flagging rule-breaking content that still remained newsworthy.

Since the backlash, Zuckerberg has been increasingly outspoken about his opposition to decisions made by politicians, including from the Trump administration.

Last week, he said in an interview with infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci that the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by the government was "disappointing."

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook, checks his phone during the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, July 13, 2018 in Sun Valley, Idaho. Drew Angerer/Getty