George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist, has said that Mark Zuckerberg and Donald Trump appear to have struck a “mutual assistance arrangement” that will help the US president “get re-elected”, referencing Facebook’s willingness to continue publishing political adverts.
In a letter written to the Financial Times, Mr Soros accused the Facebook owner of “obfuscating the facts” after he argued for greater regulation of the internet last Saturday.
“Even if I’m not going to agree with every regulation in the near term, I do think it’s going to be the thing that helps creates trust and better governance of the internet and will benefit everyone, including us over the long term,” Mr Zuckerberg told an audience at the Munich Security Conference.
He followed this with an op-ed in the Financial Times on Sunday, asserting that Facebook needs “more oversight and accountability.”
“People need to feel that global technology platforms answer to someone, so regulation should hold companies accountable when they make mistakes,” Mr Zuckerberg wrote.
Mr Soros has since launched a scathing attack on the young CEO, accusing him of hypocrisy while demanding that he be “removed from control of Facebook”.
“Mark Zuckerberg should stop obfuscating the facts by piously arguing for government regulation,” the 89-year-old said in the FT.
“Mr Zuckerberg appears to be engaged in some kind of mutual assistance arrangement with Donald Trump that will help him to get re-elected. Facebook does not need to wait for government regulations to stop accepting any political advertising in 2020 until after the elections on November 4. If there is any doubt whether an ad is political, it should err on the side of caution and refuse to publish. It is unlikely that Facebook will follow this course.
“Therefore, I repeat my proposal, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg should be removed from control of Facebook. (It goes without saying that I support government regulation of social media platforms.)”
Unlike Twitter, which last year announced it had “made the decision to stop all political advertising” on the platform, Facebook continues to run such ads.
Many of these circumvent the website’s fact-checking services and are allowed to target specific groups of voters.
Facebook keeps a record of all political adverts in an ‘Ad Library’, which shows how much money is being spent by politicians and the messages they are paying to amplify.
Mr Soros has previously lambasted Facebook, and other internet giants such as Amazon and Google, for damaging democracy and manipulating users for commercial gain.
His words come in the wake of Mr Zuckerberg’s visit to Europe, where the 35-year-old is meeting with leaders to discuss government regulation, big data, online disinformation and election manipulation.
Talks have been far from smooth, though. On Monday, EU industry commissioner Thierry Breton said Facebook needed to adapt to Europe’s standards, not the other way round, as he criticised the social media giant’s proposed internet rules as insufficient.
“It’s not for us to adapt to this company, it’s for this company to adapt to us,” Mr Breton, a former CEO at French telecoms provider Orange, said.
Mr Breton also said he would decide by the end of the year whether to adopt tough rules as part of the digital services act to regulate online platforms and set out their responsibilities.
He dismissed a discussion paper issued by Facebook on Monday that rejects what it calls intrusive regulations and suggests looser rules whereby companies would periodically report content and publish enforcement data.
On Wednesday, European leaders kick-started discussions about new rules governing data and artificial intelligence, including facial recognition, with Mr Breton due to present a raft of rules seeking to rein in US tech giants and state-aided Chinese companies.