Given that Donald Trump has publicly suggested shutting down the Internet, it’s no surprise that tech companies aren’t the biggest fans of the Republican frontrunner for this year’s presidential election. Historically liberal California certainly doesn’t seem like a particularly strong base for the New York real estate mogul, and apparently, that’s especially true in the tech capital of Silicon Valley. As it turns out, employees within social media giant Facebook have been toying with the notion of using Facebook resources to prevent a Trump presidency, and they have asked CEO Mark Zuckerberg if such a course of action is acceptable.
On a weekly basis, the social network circulates a company-wide poll asking Facebookers what they’d like to ask their fearless leader in upcoming Q&A sessions. And at the March 4 session, the fifth most popular question was, “What responsibility does Facebook have to help prevent President Trump in 2017?”
It’s not a surprising question, given the ideological makeup of most tech companies, but it does carry important implications. Facebook, needless to say, is one of the most powerful entities in the world. With over one billion active daily users, the social network is much more than a place where we exchange pleasantries — rather, it’s become the platform for the broadest range of social interaction. From advertising to media outlets, just about everyone has discovered the power of connectivity, putting Facebook in a very, very lucrative and influential position.
“Facebook can promote or block any material that it wants,” UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh told Gizmodo. “Facebook has the same First Amendment right as the New York Times. They can completely block Trump if they want. They can block him or promote him.”
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And while there are Chrome extensions that can help you filter Trump out of your search results, having one of the biggest Internet companies exercise this power at large would be a completely different scenario.
Facebook has certainly been a powerful force in elections before. Indeed, the social media site is one of the most powerful predictors of poll results, and is a major proponent of getting out the vote. There’s the “I Voted” button the company placed on 98 percent of user’s profiles in 2010, and in 2012, the company tweaked users’ newsfeeds in an attempt to improve civic engagement. Newsflash: it worked.
But while it seems pretty acceptable for Facebook to help send people to the polls, doing so in a partisan fashion may be more contentious.
Still, according to Volokh, it would be totally legal. “If they’re just saying, ‘We don’t want Trump material on our site,’ they have every right to do that,” he told Gizmodo. “It’s protected by the First Amendment.”