That’s what Mollie Hemingway says:
The FBI rigged the 2020 election. https://t.co/GjRjMVUY8T
— Mollie (@MZHemingway) August 25, 2022
She is talking about the interview that Mark Zuckerberg did with Joe Rogan. It has gotten a great deal of attention; the New York Post, for example, features Kevin McCarthy tweeting about the “bombshell interview on ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’”.
Much as I admire Mollie, I think she overstates the case, at least in terms of the Rogan interview. You can watch the Zuckerberg interview on Spotify if you subscribe to that service. The clip embedded in the tweet above contains the most relevant exchange. Zuckerberg says that Facebook restricted (but, unlike Twitter, did not entirely suppress) references to the New York Post’s reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop. Why? Because the FBI came to Facebook and told them to be on the lookout for Russian disinformation:
Z: …The background here is the FBI I think basically came to us, some folks on our team, and it was like, hey, just so you know, like you should be on high alert, there was, we thought that there was a lot of Russian propaganda in the 2016 election, and we have it on notice that basically there is about to be some kind of dump of, that’s similar to that, so just be vigilant.
So our protocol is different from Twitter’s. What Twitter did is, they said you can’t share this at all. We didn’t do that. What we do is we have, if something is reported to us as potentially misinformation, important misinformation, we also visit third-party fact-checking programs because we don’t want to be deciding what’s true and false. And for the, I think it was five or seven days when it was basically being determined whether it was false, the distribution on Facebook was decreased, but people were still allowed to share it. So you could still share it, you could still consume it.
R: So when you say the distribution is decreased, how does that work?
Z: Basically the ranking on Newsfeed was a little bit less, so people fewer saw it than would have otherwise. So it definitely…
R: By what percentage?
Z: I don’t know off the top of my head. But it’s, it’s meaningful. But I mean basically a lot of people were still able to share it. We got a lot of complaints that that was the case. You know, obviously this is a hyper-political issue. So, depending on what side of the political spectrum, you either think we didn’t censor it enough, or censored it way too much. But we weren’t sort of as black and white about it as Twitter. We just kind of thought, hey, look, if the FBI, which I still view as a legitimate institution in this country, it’s very professional law enforcement. If they come to us and tell us that we need to be on guard about something then I want to take that seriously.
R: Did they specifically say you need to be on guard about that story?
Z: No, I don’t remember if it was that story specifically, but it basically fit the pattern.
What Zuckerberg said raises more questions than it answers. Rogan is an interviewer, not a cross-examiner, so several questions were left hanging. Most important, of course, is what the FBI actually said to Facebook. Did they suggest that the Hunter laptop story should be suppressed, or was it just a general comment about Russian disinformation? Zuckerberg claims he doesn’t remember whether the FBI flagged the laptop story, but that hardly seems credible. He wasn’t the one who had the conversation with the FBI, but in the wake of what happened afterward, it is implausible that he didn’t go back to the people involved–the people who talked to the FBI and who suppressed the laptop story–and ask them what happened.
Further, Zuckerberg says the laptop story “fit the pattern.” What pattern? Other than the fact that it was a story that hurt Democrats, it is hard to imagine what pattern he (or the FBI) could have in mind. If there was a “pattern” that the FBI said to watch out for, what was it? Unfortunately, Rogan didn’t follow up.
It seems clear that, based on whatever the FBI told them, both Facebook and Twitter immediately jumped to the conclusion that the Hunter laptop story should be suppressed. That suggests to me that the FBI either flagged that story specifically, or else suggested a “pattern” that the story obviously fit.
Zuckerberg says that the laptop story was suppressed for five to seven days while it was being determined whether the story was false. I don’t understand that. Did Facebook decide after a week that the story was true, and stop suppressing it? That would be news to me. Or did they decide it was false? If so, on what basis? Zuckerberg implies that the suppression ceased after a week or so, but I doubt that this is true.
So Zuckerberg’s comments are interesting but far from definitive. Nearly two years after the events, we still don’t know what the FBI and other government agencies did, and how those actions may have impacted the 2020 election. This is due to the lack of any competent investigation. In the context of a lawsuit, it would be easy to obtain the relevant documents and take depositions from the FBI employees and Facebook and Twitter employees who talked about disinformation and, perhaps, the laptop story. It would be pretty easy to get to the bottom of it. But no such investigation has been undertaken, and it probably won’t be. Even if Republicans take the House and/or Senate in November and try to investigate these matters, Congressional investigations are generally inadequate, and it will be surprising if they actually can answer the relevant questions.