Aaron Sorkin, writer of "The Social Network," wrote an open letter in the New York Times on Thursday criticizing Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook for a policy of not fact-checking any political ads — and Zuckerberg quoted Sorkin's own words to dismiss the attack.
The two men have a contentious past, as "The Social Network" was a wildly successful movie that portrayed Zuckerberg's rise in an unflattering way, which Zuckerberg resisted at the time and called inaccurate.
Zuckerberg has defended Facebook's hands-off policy toward political ads by appealing to the First Amendment. He said, and Sorkin quotes in his NYT piece, that "in a democracy, I believe 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."
"I admire your deep belief in free speech," Sorkin wrote to Zuckerberg. "I get a lot of use out of the First Amendment. Most important, it's a bedrock of our democracy and it needs to be kept strong. But 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 accused Zuckerberg of "assaulting truth" rather than defending free speech by not removing ads that are determined to be false.
Zuckerberg's response was brief, and used words Sorkin would quickly recognize — because they came from another movie Sorkin wrote, "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.
Sorkin apparently got a bit sloppy with the facts in his open letter to Zuckerberg, forcing the Times to issue a lengthy series of corrections after publication. The correction reads:
An earlier version of this article misstated the year in which "The Social Network" was released. It was 2010, not 2011. The nature of the major lawsuit that bankrupted Gawker was misstated. It was an invasion of privacy lawsuit, not a defamation suit. In addition, information about Americans' use of Facebook as a news source was misstated. In 2018, over 40 percent of Americans said they got news from Facebook; it is not the case that half of all Americans say that Facebook is their main source of news.