“The Travels of Sir John Mandeville” was a supposed memoir that Christopher Columbus used as a reference guide despite the book’s fantastical tales of journeys across oceans and treks through strange and beguiling lands. The author described one destination where crocodiles would slay men and weep while devouring their flesh. I was reminded of Mandeville’s crying crocodiles while reading the fable in which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg unconvincingly assured Americans he was “deeply shaken and disgusted by Trump’s incendiary rhetoric” — which Zuckerberg’s website promotes and profits from every second of every day.

The Facebook founder failed to shed a tear while Russia-based operatives published at least 80,000 posts on his site throughout the 2016 election and beyond. The social network later admitted that the Russian propaganda it allowed to spread on its website reached as many as 126 million users. Even after the election, Zuckerberg dismissed as “crazy” any notion that Russian use of his site influenced the vote. A year later, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg was told by the company’s then-security chief, Alex Stamos, “that Facebook had yet to contain the Russian infestation,” the New York Times reported. Sandberg yelled at him for being disloyal.

Three years later, Zuckerberg clearly remains unfazed by warnings over his site’s content, even when those raising red flags are nearly 150 scientists funded by his own family’s institute. In a letter this month, those scientists pleaded with the Facebook chief executive to stop the social network from spreading racist rhetoric, misinformation and incendiary language “that harms people or groups of people, especially in our current climate that is grappling with racial injustice.”

Zuckerberg responded to these pleas with little more than a dribble of crocodile tears. While proclaiming his concern over the raw, unfiltered sewage of propaganda that he allows his site to spew daily, the CEO continues to profit mightily off hate groups and conspiracy theorists, whose dangerous ideas are given a long reach on Facebook. Federal officer David Patrick Underwood was allegedly murdered by a member of the far-right “boogaloo boys” who investigators say used the George Floyd protests as an excuse for the killing. NBC News’s Andrew Blankstein and Ben Collins reported that the suspect allegedly posted to boogaloo Facebook groups and that Zuckerberg’s website recklessly promoted the group to other unsuspecting users prior to the killing.

Zuckerberg also published President Trump’s false charge that a 75-year-old man battered by Buffalo police was a member of antifa. With a pro-Trump congressman’s call for hunting down antifa members appearing on the same social network, one wonders what awaits the peace activist when he finally leaves his hospital bed. Will the Facebook founder shed a tear for the battered senior citizen if a cruel fate befalls him because of conspiracy theories allowed to fester on his website?

And will the Facebook founder attend the funeral of future pandemic victims who fell prey to the lies of a conspiracy movie that attacked National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony S. Fauci and dismissed covid-19 as a plot hatched by a cabal of elites using the virus to make money and seize power? Zuckerberg and Facebook didn’t act to remove the film until this blight on public health had been liked, shared and commented on by nearly 2.5 million viewers and was seen more often than a Taylor Swift concert announcement and the “Office” cast’s Zoom wedding. With more than 115,000 Americans dead from covid-19, why are Facebook and its founder not responsible for the damage caused by spreading such conspiracy theories?

The more critical question now is why Congress continues to allow Silicon Valley billionaires such as Zuckerberg, Sandberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey — whose company is likewise not liable for its reckless and damaging practices — to rake in billions by publishing violent rhetoric, deadly misinformation, deranged conspiracy theories and foreign interference that debase America’s culture, coarsen its political debate and erode our very democracy.

Congress still lets these conglomerates luxuriate in absolute immunity from the harm they cause to Americans’ life. Citizens can hold car companies, airline corporations, restaurants, doctors and small business owners liable for problems that they cause. Yet tech billionaires bear no personal responsibility for the wrecked lives and damaged democracies that lay shattered at their feet.

Mark, Sheryl and Jack, you have revealed yourselves to be vapid vulgarians who put at risk Americans’ health, racial justice, fair elections and basic truths. Worse, Americans can’t even trust that you won’t allow foreign spies to undermine this year’s presidential election. You have already proved yourself capable of turning a blind eye to foreign interference, so long as the advertising checks clear. That is but one reason the monopolies you lord over should be broken into pieces, the immunity that holds you harmless should be stripped away at once, and the companies you run should be sued into bankruptcy.

Perhaps then American democracy will have a fighting chance to survive.

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