Why Conservatives Loved Mark Zuckerberg’s Georgetown Speech
It justified a status quo that favors Donald Trump
Mark Zuckerberg’s speech at Georgetown last week didn’t go over well with civil rights groups, academics and researchers, Democratic presidential candidates, tech journalists, or tech policy experts. Even leading free speech advocates found it disappointing.
But there was at least one group that really liked it: the American right.
The conservative pundit Ben Shapiro called the Facebook chief’s address “quite good” and his interpretation of free speech “actually correct.” The conspiracy-peddling men’s rights activist and alt-right blogger Mike Cernovich praised it as “a direct rejection of the media’s demand for control over the minds of billions.” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, one of the right’s most outspoken Facebook critics, found the speech “a heartwarming reminder that free expression is the best business model in the world.”
If you took Zuckerberg’s speech at face value, as an earnest defense of free expression in a democratic society, the partisan response would be hard to explain. Yes, many conservatives value the First Amendment, but so do many of the liberals and centrists who found the talk frustrating.
The social network has never been a neutral broker in the marketplace of ideas.
Drawing on U.S. civil rights history, Zuckerberg framed free speech as a force for equality, peppering it with references to Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, and the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements. Yet it was the nationalist right with whom his words resonated, while modern-day civil rights leaders — including MLK’s daughter, Bernice King — found it disingenuous.
The disconnect makes more sense when you realize that what Zuckerberg was really defending was Facebook’s status quo — the status quo that has helped to make stars of bloggers such as Shapiro, that makes Fox News the platform’s most popular information source, and that may have helped Donald Trump win the presidency in 2016. And it’s already helping his campaign for reelection in 2020. At its core, the social network has never been a neutral broker in the…