WSJ: Did Facebook fire an executive for supporting Trump?

And, perhaps more importantly, did Mark Zuckerberg lie in testimony to Congress? At one time a rising star in Silicon Valley, Palmer Luckey got bought out by Facebook within months of donating to a group opposed to Hillary Clinton. The Wall Street Journal reports today that Facebook execs pressured Luckey to renounce his support of Donald Trump and transfer it to … Gary Johnson?

Facebook Inc. FB -2.61% executive and virtual-reality wunderkind Palmer Luckey was a rising star of Silicon Valley when, at the height of the 2016 presidential contest, he donated $10,000 to an anti-Hillary Clinton group.

His donation sparked a backlash from his colleagues. Six months later, he was out. Neither Facebook nor Mr. Luckey has ever said why he left the social-media giant. When testifying before Congress about data privacy earlier this year, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg denied the departure had anything to do with politics.

Mr. Luckey, it turns out, was put on leave, then fired, according to people familiar with the matter. More recently, he has told people the reason was his support for Donald Trump and the furor that his political beliefs sparked within Facebook and Silicon Valley, some of those people say.

Internal Facebook emails suggest the matter was discussed at the highest levels of the company. In the fall of 2016, as unhappiness over the donation simmered, Facebook executives including Mr. Zuckerberg pressured Mr. Luckey to publicly voice support for libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, despite Mr. Luckey’s yearslong support of Mr. Trump, according to people familiar with the conversations and internal emails viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Why Johnson? If this is true, perhaps it would have been blindingly obvious even to Facebook execs that a declaration of support for Hillary Clinton at that point would have looked suspicious. Forcing Luckey to switch from Trump to Johnson would be at least a little more plausible, if only microscopically. But really … moving from Trump to Gary Johnson? If that was the strategy, did they really think anyone would buy that?

Apparently they did, because Luckey wrote a public statement supporting Johnson — or someone did under his name. The WSJ article reports that an e-mail from the company’s deputy counsel names Zuckerberg himself as the author, although Luckey approved the final draft himself. That forced Luckey to vote for Johnson in case he ever got deposed in the matter:

“I need to tell you that Mark [Zuckerberg] himself drafted this and details are critical,” Facebook Deputy General Counsel Paul Grewal wrote to a lawyer for Mr. Luckey in a September 2016 email, attaching an early draft of the statement, according to the emails reviewed by the Journal. The draft said Mr. Luckey wouldn’t be supporting Mr. Trump in the election.

Mr. Luckey has told people he did vote for Mr. Johnson, but only to avoid having his credibility questioned if he was asked about the issue under oath in unrelated litigation.

Luckey wound up with a $100 million golden parachute on his way out of Facebook, which he added to the $600 million he personally netted from the sale of Oculus. It’s tough to call him a victim in the cosmic sense, but it seems clear that his ouster was primarily about discomfort over his politics and largely unrelated to anything done on the job apart from it.

This has echoes of the Brendan Eich ousting at Mozilla a few years back. Eich, who helped build Mozilla into prominence, had the temerity to donate funds to a pro-traditional marriage referendum in California, which then touched off a firestorm of protest. Eich had neither promoted the referendum on his own time nor tied Mozilla to it in any way, and yet executives dumped him for his opposition to same-sex marriage — even after the referendum passed in California.

This report comes at an especially touchy time for Facebook. Republicans and conservatives have accused executives at the social-media platform of bias against them. Forcing Luckey out over his opposition to Hillary Clinton, if indeed that’s what happened, will only serve to reinforce that perception. Zuckerberg might have bigger problems than that, however, if those e-mails turn up and corroborate the WSJ’s reporting. Zuckerberg may have committed a crime in his earlier testimony. That might interest a Senate committee in the next session of Congress under Republican leadership, even if it doesn’t interest anyone in the new Democratic majority of the House. A criminal referral might not result, or if it does might not produce action from the Department of Justice, but the new chair of the Judiciary or Commerce committees in the upper chamber might take a keen interest in this. To quote Wilford Brimley in Absence of Malice — “Wonderful thing, subpoenas.”

How much coverage will this produce in other media? Probably not as much as today’s brief outage on Facebook, which at least one news outlet covered as dramatically as a natural disaster. Where were you during the Great Lunchtime Facebook Outage of November 2018?

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David Strom 4:01 PM on October 03, 2022