Before the third and final presidential debate, Donald Trump went live on Facebook in what may have been the first dry run of Trump TV. The broadcast was watched by nearly 9 million people as of this writing and came together, in part, thanks to help from Facebook.
According to a Facebook spokesperson, the social network has advised the Trump campaign on a number of content initiatives, including Facebook Live. The relationship with the Trump campaign is far from exclusive, though. The spokesperson said that Facebook's role in advising the Trump campaign is no different from its relationship with the Clinton campaign and that Facebook advises on how to effectively use Facebook for down ballot campaigns on both sides of the aisle.
Still, Facebook's neutral stance with the Trump campaign raises a question — one that's currently roiling decision makers from Silicon Valley boardrooms to Republican Party offices — about where institutions should draw the line when it comes to providing equal opportunities to parties and institutions that may have objectionable views.
Just this week, Silicon Valley executives and companies, including Facebook, have come under scrutiny for continuing to work with investor (and Facebook board member) Peter Thiel, a Trump supporter who spoke at the Republican convention and recently gave $1.25 million to Trump's campaign. In a leaked internal memo, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg defended Thiel, saying his company could not commit to diversity while also dissociating with Trump supporters.
Facebook's non-partisan posture may be further complicated by the possibility of forthcoming Trump TV network. The scale of Facebook's platform is without peer and the streaming infrastructure and built-in audience of Live could provide a meaningful, low cost way for Trump bypass a traditional TV operation in favor of digital. And for the next three weeks, Trump can use his campaign to leverage Facebook's in-house best practices team. Though Facebook isn't offering any advice on how to start a TV network, the campaign can use that time to workshop how to best build an effective broadcast. There's even the possibility to make some money; a Facebook spokesperson noted that Trump's page could create content featuring a particular brand using Live to generate revenue.
Facebook, for its part, refuses to draw lines. When asked if the company would allow fringe and nationalist political parties like the British National Party, the Front National in France, or a neo-Nazi political organization, the Facebook official, speaking on the condition they not be quoted directly or by name, said that the company would offer advice about Facebook's best practices, so long as their activities did not violate Facebook’s published community standards.