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Love him or hate him, you have to admit that popular podcast host Joe Rogan is one of the most influential people in the nation right now. An appearance on his show can get people chattering about a certain topic, a certain issue, or certain individual for days, if not weeks, at a time. And anyone appearing on the show also knows that there’s a certain amount of controversy that seems to accompany many of the high-profile guests. So why in the world would Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg ever agree to go on the Joe Rogan Experience?
What Zuckerberg told Rogan
During the interview, Joe Rogan asked Mark Zuckerberg how Facebook would respond to particularly controversial topics or issues that might appear on the platform. And, in particular, he asked him about the Hunter Biden laptop scandal. Zuckerberg apparently thought he was answering a fairly innocent question, because he absolutely walked straight into a trap.
On air, Zuckerberg admitted that Facebook was contacted by the FBI and told to sit on the Hunter Biden laptop story for 7 days. In order to make it not seem like censorship, Facebook agreed that it would not actively promote the story, but would not stop anyone from sharing it if they happened to find it on the platform.
In other words, Facebook engaged in a form of algorithmic censorship. It specifically told the Facebook algorithm not to show anyone the Hunter Biden laptop story in their news feeds. Zuckerberg claimed that the Facebook “protocol” was so much more progressive than the Twitter “protocol” (which placed an outright ban on the Hunter Biden laptop story). He said that Facebook was so much more on top of their game by using third-party fact-checking partners and immediately responding to concerns of top law enforcement officials. Yet, almost everyone seemed to see through the smoke and mirrors.
Why it matters
What Facebook did, in fact, amounted to direct interference in the 2020 presidential election. The FBI knew the Hunter Biden laptop story would hurt Jospeh Biden, and help Donald Trump. And it knew that it did not have the constitutional power to outright ban the content. (That’s only possible in authoritarian nations!) So it did the next best thing — it applied pressure on Facebook and Facebook complied. Of course, to make things sound as innocent possible, the FBI blamed it all on “Russian disinformation.” You know, as in, “If a really bad news story comes out soon, it’s probably Russian disinformation, so make sure you don’t spread it.”
As might be expected, Trump supporters went absolutely bonkers. They had the smoking gun, and everything they had been saying for two years seemed to be true. There was a laptop, it had a lot of incriminating evidence on it, and the Biden team tried to hide it. Trump is now saying that we should have a “do-over” election as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Biden supporters are saying that Trump should be indicted and locked up as soon as possible. It’s messy, it’s complicated, and Mark Zuckerberg made it all worse.
Erosion of trust in American institutions
At the end of the day, nobody is going to trust American democracy or American institutions any longer if this type of activity persists. At one time, we trusted the media. We trusted our politicians. And we trusted law enforcement. Now, it’s all up in the air. Nobody trusts the mainstream media. Nobody trusts politicians. Nobody trusts Facebook. Everything is being weaponized in order to gain or regain power. We can no longer pretend that things aren’t deeply broken. At some point, we need to have an honest and fair discussion about the role of social media in society.