MARK Zuckerberg floundered when grilled about Donald Trump’s Facebook demands during a secret, private dinner with the American president.
Speaking to CBS This Morning, the Facebook chief looked very uncomfortable while being quizzed about the online giant’s contentious stance on political advertising.
Zuckerberg has gone on the defensive, saying the public should be able to judge “the character of politicians” for themselves.
The social network has been scrutinised for allowing political adverts to remain on its platform, as the UK prepares to go the polls next week and the US presidential election is being held in 2020.
He was grilled by Gayle King, who asked: “You were in DC recently. It was reported later that you had dinner with the President at the White House.
“What was the nature of the meeting? Can you say?”
Zuckerberg replied: “Uh, sure, I mean, we talked about a number of things that were on his mind, and some of the topics that you read about in the news around our work.”
The presenter pointed out that the dinner “was not disclosed by the White House, and only became public after the fact, through news reports.”
She added: “It came as President Trump was openly discouraging Facebook from banning political ads.”
Team Trump said last month on Twitter: “Facebook wants to take important tools away from us for 2020.
“Tools that help us reach more great Americans & lift voices the media & big tech choose to ignore!
“They want to raise prices to put more of your hard earned small dollar donations into their pockets.”
But Zuckerberg appeared to disagree with the campaigners’ comments, telling King: “What I believe is that in a democracy, it’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgements.
“And you know, I don’t think that a private company should be censoring politicians or news.”
King pointed out that 200 Facebook employees had criticised its policy in an internal letter.
They pointed out that “free speech and paid speech are not the same”.
However, Zuckerberg said people should “judge for themselves the character of politicians”.
He said that when he recently dined with Trump, the president didn’t try to lobby him.
A struggling Zuckerberg fobbed off King’s questions about the pair’s dinner, saying that it was “private” and that the content of their discussion would remain private.
Last month, Twitter announced a political ad ban, effective from November.
It won some praise from Democrats and scorn from Trump’s re-election campaign.
Zuckerberg has been defending his company’s policy to run ads from politicians containing false or misleading claims, saying it didn’t want to stifle political speech.
He recently came under aggressive questions by lawmakers in the US over Facebook’s efforts to combat misinformation ahead of next year’s presidential election when he appeared at a Congressional hearing.
He estimated ads from politicians would account for under 0.5 per cent of Facebook’s revenue next year.
Facebook’s competitive practices currently are under investigation separately by the U.S. Congress, Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission and 47 state attorneys general.