Why Elizabeth Warren Is the VP Pick Facebook Doesn't Want to See

Last fall, Senator Elizabeth Warren was talking about breaking up Facebook, the largest social network on the planet, as well as other Big Tech companies. This fall, she could become the next vice president of the United States.

That presents a big problem for Facebook. Warren, who is on the short list to be Joe Biden's running mate, is seen as one of the few impact picks, able to bring over disillusioned supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders. She routinely tops the list in polls asking voters whom they want to see nominated, with a New York Times poll Friday showing her with the highest approval rating among respondents, at 45 percent.

While a vice president takes his or her cues on administration priorities from the president, Warren's selection could be a setback for the powerful company, which already faces accusations that it placates President Donald Trump as well as antitrust issues in Europe. Facebook and Warren have launched broadsides at each other, as they did in October, when audio leaked of CEO Mark Zuckerberg telling his employees he would sue the government if Warren tried to break up his company.

With Biden's VP decision weeks away, sources who've worked with the company and Democrats told Newsweek that Facebook would prefer to see anyone but Warren on the ticket.

"I don't think they'd like it," said a source with ties to Facebook, who asked for anonymity in order to discuss sensitive company matters. "The question is, If Biden wins, will they have the same animus?"

Citing the "integrity of our elections," Biden told The Washington Post during the primary that the country hasn't spent enough time focusing on antitrust measures and said reining in major corporations, including Big Tech, needs a hard look. But he did not mention Facebook.

Asked whether the social network is concerned about Warren as vice president, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told Newsweek, "I don't think we would weigh in on the VP pick."

During the spring and summer of 2019, Warren campaigned on her plan to break up Big Tech companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google, which would include rolling back major acquisitions like Facebook's deals for Instagram and WhatsApp. Known during the primary as the candidate with a plan for everything, Warren wasn't shy about touting this one, putting up a large billboard in San Francisco, where many Facebook employees live, that said "Break Up Big Tech" in block letters under her name.

In October, leaked audio emerged of Zuckerberg's response to that idea: He made it clear he saw Warren as an "existential" threat to the company and floated a lawsuit.

"I would bet that we will win the legal challenge," he said. "Does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don't want to have a major lawsuit against our own government.... But look, at the end of the day if someone's going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight."

Warren hit back on Twitter. "What would really 'suck' is if we don't fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy," she wrote.

"There's no doubt in my mind that Big Tech and Wall Street–friendly interests are worried about Warren," said Democratic strategist Murshed Zaheed, who backs her for vice president. He said Biden's invocations of Franklin D. Roosevelt, architect of the New Deal during the Great Depression, as a model for his presidency should also worry Facebook.

"Biden has talked about a presidency that will have an FDR approach, and Warren would be his best partner and best situated to help him achieve that vision, which would include reining in Big Tech interests," Zaheed added. "Naturally, Facebook would take note of that."

The source with ties to Facebook said much would hinge on whether Democrats win the Senate in November. If not, they would be focused on regulatory fixes, and their eye could turn to the social network.

Democratic leaders have become increasingly emboldened in criticizing Facebook. Biden this month released an open letter calling on the company to "promote real news, not fake news"; "quickly remove viral misinformation"; enforce voter suppression rules on everyone, including Trump; and institute a policy that would have Facebook fact-check political ads in the two weeks before an election to stop disinformation from affecting the outcome. In May 2019, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was reportedly furious when a manipulated video of her went viral on the network.

The social media giant appears torn about how to address its political problems. New York Times columnist Ben Smith said this week that leaders were "having an internal debate over balancing the reality of Republican control of regulatory agencies with the fact that Democrats are far more likely, in the long run, to actually push through new oversight or try to break up the company by forcing the sale of Instagram or WhatsApp."

Warren responded to the column by tweeting, "Facebook is too big and has too much power—and Mark Zuckerberg's uninterrogated and unaccountable relationship with Trump is a danger to our democracy."

The hits keep coming for the digital behemoth. On Thursday, Verizon became the largest company to join a boycott of Facebook advertising for not doing enough to stop hate speech on its platforms. Brad Bauman, the former executive director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told Newsweek the move is one reason Facebook is likely not focused on the veepstakes.

"Facebook has so many problems right now that they're not even thinking in that direction," Bauman said. "It's clear they're stomping out so many fires."

Warren's case to be the vice presidential nominee has had to weather a powerful political moment, with protests about police brutality against African Americans leading Democrats to call for a black woman to be the running mate. The New York Times poll from Friday had Senator Kamala Harris, who is Black, second in favorability among voters. Asked by the Times about breaking up Big Tech, Harris said, "My first priority is going to be that we ensure that privacy is something that is intact."

So it is Warren who stands out as the Democrat whose possible political ascent Facebook is watching closely.

"I would hope Mark Zuckerberg is doing a lot of soul-searching on the role his company plays in spreading disinformation in our democracy and the responsibility he has," said Jonathan Jayes-Green, former Latinx outreach director for Warren's campaign. "My hope is that regardless who the VP is, there's a process of accountability around Facebook."

warren break up facebook
Senator Elizabeth Warren's presidential campaign posted a billboard in San Francisco that calls for breaking up Big Tech. Justin Sullivan/Getty