Facebook has announced it will be the official sponsor of the Republican National Convention in July. This doesn’t constitute a political endorsement — the company is also sponsoring the Democratic convention — but that hasn’t stopped protestors from declaring that by financially backing the conference, Facebook is lending weight to the Trump campaign.
“Lifting up Donald Trump’s fascist platform at the Republican National Convention is irresponsible and dangerous,” says CREDO activist Murshed Zaheed. “It simply isn’t possible for Facebook to financially support a Trump-led Republican convention without associating its brand with Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric.”
Arisha Hatch, of the campaigning group Color Of Change, describes the conference as “a coronation ball for a white nationalist who has said vile things about Latino people, Black people, Muslim people and women.” Considering Facebook’s own previous struggles to promote diversity within its own walls, Hatch finds its recent decision to host a lounge at the convention “troubling.”
Facebook has always asserted that it is politically neutral, and its sponsorship of both the Republican and Democratic conventions should put paid to concerns that the organisation is Team Trump to rest. Instead, it can be argued that establishing a presence at both conferences enables Facebook to deliver information to people who cannot attend, making the on-going, often-impenetrable election saga more accessible and comprehendible for millions.
“This support allows Facebook to facilitate an open dialogue among voters, candidates and elected officials during the conventions, just as it has during other critical moments in the US elections and in elections around the world,” says Erin Egan, Facebook’s Vice President of Public Policy.
In fact, founder Mark Zuckerberg is far from Trump’s biggest fan. Earlier this year at the F8 developer conference, he made several oblique remarks about “fearful voices talking about building walls” which were universally presumed to be directed at Trump and his notorious stance on immigration.
Facebook won’t be the only tech giant participating in the convention; Google will also be broadcasting coverage of both the Republican and Democratic events via YouTube, and has already faced pressure by CREDO and Color Of Change to withdraw from the Republican convention. According to Malkia Cyril, Director of the Centre for Media Justice, Facebook and Google both have “a responsibility to support free speech” while simultaneously drawing a line at “the kind of chilling hate speech propagated by a Trump-led GOP convention.”
But is it the responsibility of technology and media companies to decide which political perspectives should be made freely available? Or should we each be our own arbiters of what we deem to be appropriate discourse?
“It’s not hard to side with YouTube and Facebook on this one; they operate platforms that are essential for spreading information and news across the United States,” writes The Verge’s Chris Welch. “Bailing on a major political party’s convention simply because many people strongly dislike Donald Trump would set an alarming precedent — no matter how ‘hateful’ or misguided his rhetoric becomes.”