UPDATE, with Zuckerberg response Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has responded to Aaron Sorkin’s blistering New York Times open letter by quoting the Social Network screenwriter’s own words – from 1995’s The American President.
“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say: You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.”
– Aaron Sorkin, The American President
Earlier today in an open letter to Zuckerberg published on The Times‘ website, Sorkin, screenwriter of director David Fincher’s Facebook bio-drama The Social Network, publicly called out Zuckerberg for continuing his company’s “practice of posting demonstrably false ads from political candidates.”
In the open letter, Sorkin condemns Zuckerberg’s defense of the social network’s ongoing refusal to fact-check and restrict the political ads it runs. In his op-ed, Broadway’s To Kill A Mockingbird playwright says he shares Zuckerberg’s “deep belief” in free speech, but adds that “this can’t possibly be the outcome you and I want, to have crazy lies pumped into the water supply that corrupt the most important decisions we make together. Lies that have a very real and incredibly dangerous effect on our elections and our lives and our children’s lives.”
Sorkin also weaves in anecdotes about the writing and filming of The Social Network and the “irony” of Zuckerberg’s accusations then “that the movie was a lie.”
Writes Sorkin, “It was hard not to feel the irony while I was reading excerpts from your recent speech at Georgetown University, in which you defended — on free speech grounds — Facebook’s practice of posting demonstrably false ads from political candidates.”
Sorkin goes on to note that “…right now, on your website, is an ad claiming that Joe Biden gave the Ukrainian attorney general a billion dollars not to investigate his son. Every square inch of that is a lie and it’s under your logo. That’s not defending free speech, Mark, that’s assaulting truth.”
In the open letter addressed to “Mark,” Sorkin recounts his brushes with Facebook lawyers and execs, including chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, and notes how the film’s studio lawyers vetted the screenplay “within an inch of its life” with one goal: “Don’t get sued by Mark Zuckerberg.”
After we’d shot the movie, we arranged a private screening of an early cut for your chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, Ms. Sandberg stood up in the middle of the screening, turned to the producers who were standing in the back of the room, and said, “How can you do this to a kid?” (You were 26 years old at the time, but all right, I get it.)
I hope your C.O.O. walks into your office, leans in (as she suggested we do in her best selling book), and says, “How can we do this to tens of millions of kids? Are we really going to run an ad that claims Kamala Harris ran dog fights out of the basement of a pizza place while Elizabeth Warren destroyed evidence that climate change is a hoax and the deep state sold meth to Rashida Tlaib and Colin Kaepernick?”
Sorkin also dismisses as a false equivalency the free-speech arguments used to defend the Hustler porn publisher Larry Flynt.
“Not even Larry Flynt would say Larry Flynt,” Sorkin notes. “This isn’t the same as pornography, which people don’t rely upon for information. Last year, over 40 percent of Americans said they got news from Facebook. Of course the problem could be solved by those people going to a different news source, or you could decide to make Facebook a reliable source of public information.”
Sorkin wraps up his letter by reminding Zuckerberg of the Facebook boss’ recent testimonial response to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s concern about Facebook’s “complete lack of fact-checking on political advertisements,” in which Zuckerberg stated his belief that “people should be able to see for themselves what politicians they may or may not vote for are saying and judge their character for themselves.”
Responds Sorkin, “Now you tell me. If I’d known you felt that way, I’d have had the Winklevoss twins invent Facebook.”
Today’s open letter is the second public slam against Zuckerberg’s fact-check refusal. Yesterday, Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, after announcing that his company would ban all political advertising, Dorsey tweet-zapped Zuckerberg’s defense of Facebook’s policy.
Tweeted Dorsey: “It’s not credible for us to say: ‘We’re working hard to stop people from gaming our systems to spread misleading info, buuut if someone pays us to target and force people to see their political ad…well…they can say whatever they want!'”
Sorkin has at least one other famous supporter: Bradley Whitford, who starred on Sorkin’s The West Wing, tweeted today: “Well said, Boss.”