On Thursday, Zuckerberg — under scrutiny for how misinformation is harnessed and is now protected by Facebook — bridged the debate over Iraq and the nexus of his company, even at one point suggesting the social network could have stopped the war entirely.
“I remember feeling that if more people had a voice to share their experiences, maybe things would have gone differently,” Zuckerberg said at Georgetown University. “Those early years shaped my belief that giving everyone a voice empowers the powerless and pushes society to be better over time.”
Gallego blasted Zuckerberg’s recollection as an attempt to redraw the company’s image as altruistic in the face of growing scrutiny, as it defends its decision to allow lies in political ads.
“He’s rewriting history so it gives him an excuse to regulate himself,” Rep. Gallego (D-Ariz.) told The Washington Post on Tuesday. “It’s false. It’s completely false.”
Some bits of Zuckerberg’s recollection were telling, said Gallego, who claims to be one of the first 2,000 users of Facebook, which in its earliest iterations was open only to Harvard students.
Even in 2004, when a version that roughly resembled the site was launched, none of the features allowed users to communicate, organize or debate something like the Iraq War, Gallego said.
And the debate had no reason or inkling to move online. It was a robust machine all over campus. “The two never really intertwined,” Gallego, who then went by Ruben Marinelarena, said of Iraq discussions and Facebook, expressing doubts that Zuckerberg then had visions of harnessing online discussion when blogs were only beginning to become prominent avenues of online expression.
Nicholas Thompson, the editor of Wired, said Zuckerberg’s claims were part of a larger recasting of the company’s challenges — how and whether it should regulate speech or ban political misinformation — as part of its self-described dedication to free expression.
“He reframes the whole history of the company,” Thompson told CBS News.
A spokesman for Facebook did not return a request for comment.
Gallego, a government student in 2003, shipped off to Japan after his orders changed, he said, and he returned to campus to finish his last semester in 2004.
He served a combat tour in Iraq as an infantryman the next spring, just as Facebook took its initial steps toward becoming the social media juggernaut it is now.
But Gallego and Zuckerberg are in vastly different places now. Gallego sits in Congress, where lawmakers are split along party lines about how they view Facebook and how they might regulate it. That comes as 46 attorneys general investigate the company for possible antitrust violations.
And Zuckerberg wants it both ways, Gallego said: to appease Republicans who believe social networks stifle conservative speech and to market himself as part of a liberal resistance.
Facebook and other social networks are not federally regulated like radio and television broadcasts, and Gallego said it’s the preference of congressional colleagues to keep it that way.
But, he said, “if they’re not going to be responsible with their platform, maybe they will have to come under the responsibility of one of those governing bodies.”