As Election Misinformation Spreads On Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg Told Employees That Biden Won
Facebook’s CEO also said Steve Bannon’s comments about beheading government officials did not warrant his complete removal from the platform.
As false claims declaring that Joe Biden isn’t the president-elect flourish on his platform, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees on Thursday that the Democratic nominee “is going to be our next president.”
“I believe the outcome of the election is now clear and Joe Biden is going to be our next president,” Zuckerberg said in audio of the meeting obtained by BuzzFeed News. “It's important that people have confidence that the election was fundamentally fair, and that goes for the tens of millions of people that voted for Trump.”
The Facebook founder's comments came during an all-hands call with employees during which he was asked how he planned to work with the new administration despite concerns that Biden and his staff “dislike you and Facebook,” and why former Trump campaign chair Steve Bannon is still allowed on the social network after using it to advocate for the beheadings of government officials.
While Zuckerberg has yet to publicly comment or post to Facebook about the election, his remarks to employees signify that he believes in the legitimacy of the result. He also used the Q&A session to criticize people claiming that a Biden victory would be overturned.
“Part of what we’re seeing out here are people who are calling for recounts and legal challenges, which, in a lot of cases, is their right and something you see in a lot of elections,” he said. “But I think it’s also quite unhelpful that people out there are raising expectations that there is going to be a different outcome than from what was projected.”
He called out Trump for sharing election disinformation, something that Zuckerberg has hesitated to do in the past. “I think it, of course, is a challenge when the president of the United States is sharing some of these things directly,” he said.
A White House spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.
The billionaire's remarks came less than three hours after President Donald Trump used Facebook to falsely claim that a company that made equipment to tabulate results had deleted votes in Pennsylvania. That statement, which was also repeated on Twitter, has more than 180,000 shares on Facebook.
Even Facebook’s own internal chat during Zuckerberg’s speech, which was livestreamed to thousands of employees, became a conduit for misinformation. A small number of employees disputed their CEO calling Biden as “president-elect,” while at least one person falsely claimed that the election “wasn’t fair” because dead people had voted. (Most people in the chat strongly disagreed.)
Zuckerberg used his time to share statistics meant to reinforce the company’s claims to have handled the election successfully. He said 120 million people visited its voter information center in 2020, including 33 million on Election Day. He also said half of all people in the US on Facebook viewed “reliable voting information” — details about voter registration or election deadlines — 13 times or more. Half of Americans on Instagram viewed that information 15 times or more, he said, though he did not mention how Instagram had briefly given the wrong voting day to some people.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois later updated Zuckerberg's figures to note that 140 million people visited the voter information center.
The only statistic Zuckerberg shared about misinformation was to say that the company's third-party fact-checking partners debunked more claims on Election Day than any other day since the program launched in late 2016. He did not offer a specific number.
While Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Zuckerberg's wife, Priscilla Chan, have posted congratulations to Biden and Vice President–elect Kamala Harris, the company's CEO had been publicly silent on the election results. Following the 2016 race, BuzzFeed News reported that the Facebook CEO made a secret call to Trump to congratulate him. It is not clear if he made a similar overture to Biden.
A Biden spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Facebook's Bourgeois declined to comment.
Given Biden’s past frostiness to Facebook — he called Zuckerberg “a real problem” in a January conversation with the New York Times — workers at the social network asked if the company expected a more adversarial administration.
“Biden and his staff have stated that they dislike you and FB,” read one question, which received more than 700 upvotes from employees. “How will this impact us and are we doing anything to mitigate?”
Zuckerberg downplayed the conflict, saying that Facebook and the Biden team “worry about the same issues,” including Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a provision in federal law that immunizes platforms from liability for what users post on them. He claimed that Facebook was not “averse” to legislation and that he saw the Biden administration as more aligned with the company on issues including online encryption and climate change.
“We will find ways to hopefully work together,” he said.
That may not be the case. Several Biden advisers have already attacked the company following the election. On Wednesday, Biden media adviser Megan Clasen criticized Facebook for sending out an email to advertisers suggesting the company did not think there was a clear winner in the election.
Since media outlets projected Biden as the victor on Saturday, the social netwoking company had run notifications at the top of Facebook and Instagram a notifying users of the results.
Clasen's criticism followed a viral Twitter thread on Monday from Biden staffer Bill Russo, who said Facebook was “shredding the fabric of our democracy in the days after” the election. Concerned employees flagged Russo’s thread multiple times this week on Facebook’s internal message boards.
“I know there’s this meme that companies only care about making money,” Zuckerberg said to his workers on Thursday. “I don’t think that with the content decisions we make that that’s true. We are trying to make the best decisions we can.”
Zuckerberg was asked about one specific content moderation call on Thursday: the company’s decision not to kick off former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Earlier this month on Facebook Live, the company’s livestreaming platform, Bannon called for the beheading of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
The CEO said Bannon’s comments violated Facebook policy — but were not enough to shut down his account. Following reporting from BuzzFeed News and other outlets, Facebook removed the videos but allowed the conservative media executive to maintain his page.
“We have strict rules around how many times you need to violate certain policies before we will deactivate you,” Zuckerberg said, without detailing how many times a user could make death threats before being banned.
“We naturally, and I think rightfully, have a higher bar for that,” Zuckerberg said, in comments first reported by Reuters. “And while the offenses here came close to crossing that line [they didn’t].”
Bourgeois, the Facebook spokesperson, declined to comment on what kind of violations Bannon would need to be removed from the platform, saying that the company doesn't share its thresholds as "we don't want to encourage gaming of our system." According to a comment on Bannon’s Facebook page on Monday, administrators for the page said they had been prevented from posting new content.
BuzzFeed News also viewed communications on Facebook's internal message board noting that an official with the United Nations high commissioner for human rights had reached out to the company about why Bannon's video calling for beheadings had been allowed to stay up as long as they did.
Beyond talk of the election, Thursday’s meeting proceeded like most other all-hands meetings at Facebook. There were questions about what the company's leader saw as the promising technologies of the future, as well as jokes about the name of the plant behind Zuckerberg in the live video.
A portion of the talk was dedicated to “geeps,” sheep–goat hybrids that have become a running joke. Not everyone was happy with it.
“Our platform is actively radicalizing millions of people to believe the election is being stolen and this is what we’re talking about,” one current employee told BuzzFeed News.