Here’s Why Aaron Sorkin And Mark Zuckerberg Are Feuding

Topline: Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took shots at each other this week⁠ as Facebook comes under unrelenting scrutiny from lawmakers concerned about the platform’s controversial policy to not fact-check political ads.

  • In a Thursday op-ed for the New York Times, Sorkin said Zuckerberg was “assaulting truth” by claiming Facebook’s political ads are protected by free speech, and therefore do not require fact-checking. 
  • Zuckerberg fired back using a monologue from one of Sorkin’s own movies⁠—1995’s The American President—which he posted to his Facebook page.
  • “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,” quoted Zuckerberg.
  • Zuckerberg appears more aggressive lately in responding to criticism; in October, he also defended meeting with conservative politicians and media, saying “hearing from a wide range of viewpoints is part of learning” and “If you haven’t tried it, I suggest you do!”
  • The Washington Post reported that Sorkin’s editorial was one of Hollywood’s first attacks on Facebook’s political ad policy.
  • Meanwhile, the New York Times had to issue three corrections to Sorkin’s op-ed: He got The Social Network’s release year wrong, along with the type of lawsuit that bankrupted Gawker and a statistic about how many Americans get their news from Facebook.

Chief critic: Elizabeth Spiers, Gawker’s founding editor-in-chief, took to Twitter and clarified that the Gawker lawsuit was an invasion of privacy claim, not a defamation claim. She also said that even though Gawker wrote a lot of negative stories, they were not “inherently” defamatory because of their negativity. 

Key background: Sorkin won a screenwriting Oscar for The Social Network, a dramatic retelling of Facebook’s founding and the rise of social media. In 2014, Zuckerberg said the film “made up a bunch of stuff that I found kind of hurtful.” Since then, Facebook has been resoundly criticized for upending global politics by allowing the spread of misinformation, which it claims it is working to limit ahead of 2020. To protest Facebook’s political ad policy, Elizabeth Warren ran one claiming Facebook had endorsed President Trump and that the platform allows “a candidate to intentionally lie to the American people.” Zuckerberg doubled down on the policy during a Wednesday earnings call, saying, “In a democracy, I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians or the news.”

What to watch for: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that the social network will ban all political advertising, beginning in November. After Zuckerberg was grilled on Capitol Hill last week⁠—and his exchange with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went viral⁠—it remains unclear if Facebook will alter its political advertising policy. 

Tangent: Zuckerberg didn’t have a particularly great time last week, either.