When reports surfaced that Facebook might be suppressing conservative news in its trending topics bar, Republicans reacted as you would expect. They were pretty upset. And Facebook reacted as you would expect as well: The company denied the accusations, and its CEO is meeting with Republican leaders today to smooth things over.
But Mark Zuckerberg isn't just the CEO of a company accused of suppressing political views. He's also a CEO well-known for his own political activity, and is particularly known for working to build rapport with Republicans and Democrats alike. A pet issue of his is immigration reform, and it's an area where he has made special efforts to win conservative hearts on the side of creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
You might think, then, that a rift with Republicans over alleged repression of conservative content on Facebook would cause problems for Zuckerberg's immigration reform activist organization FWD.us, which presents itself as bipartisan. But one political scientist who watches tech leaders and immigration reform says there's more at play and the censorship issue is unlikely to carry over to Zuckerberg's other political realms.
"In this day and age, there are so many issues at any one time it's very rare ... that one policy or one decision is going to have a lot of effect on the long term views and commitments of interest groups and donors," says Larry Gerston, professor emeritus of political science at San Jose State University.
He says those interested in immigration reform, and those likely to side with FWD.us, are thinking long term about the issue and they're thinking about it as something separate from how Facebook operates. He also emphasized that the claims of censorship remain alleged, not proven.
Even with FWD.us campaigning specifically against the "Trump Effect" that pulled immigration policy proposals from Republican presidential candidates further to the right, Gerston thinks Zuckerberg can breathe relatively easy. He doesn't think FWD.us will have a harder time convincing its target audiences to steer away from Republican presumed presidential nominee Donald Trump's proposed deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Not everyone agrees with Gerston. Vivek Wadhwa, a Stanford academic known for his punditry on issues such as diversity and immigration in tech, thinks the censorship allegations not only pose a challenge for Zuckerberg in politics generally but send a message that the tech world generally should be wary of involvement in politics.
"This is why tech companies need to stay out of politics. Some of these companies such as Facebook and Google are gaining immense power and they have to be very careful how it is used," he writes in an email to Inc. "I am very supportive of skilled immigration and FWD.us, but see the risks for Facebook stepping into political debates such as this."