Steve Bannon plotted to plant a mole inside Facebook, according to emails sent days before the Breitbart boss took over Donald Trump’s campaign and obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The email exchange with a conservative Washington operative reveals the importance that the giant tech platform — now reeling from its role in the 2016 election — held for one of the campaign’s central figures. And it also shows the lengths to which the brawling new American right is willing to go to keep tabs on and gain leverage over the Silicon Valley giants it used to help elect Trump — but whose executives it also sees as part of the globalist enemy.
The idea to infiltrate Facebook came to Bannon from Chris Gacek, a former congressional staffer who is now an official at the Family Research Council, which lobbies against abortion and many LGBT rights.
“There is one for a DC-based ‘Public Policy Manager’ at Facebook’s What’s APP [sic] division,” Gacek, the senior fellow for regulatory affairs at the group, wrote on Aug. 1, 2016. “LinkedIn sent me a notice about some job openings.”
“This seems perfect for Breitbart to flood the zone with candidates of all stripe who will report back to you / Milo with INTEL about the job application process over at FB," he continued.
“Milo” is former Breitbart News Tech Editor Milo Yiannopoulos, to whom Bannon forwarded Gacek’s email the same day.
“Can u get on this,” Bannon instructed his staffer.
On the same email thread, Yiannopoulos forwarded Bannon’s request to a group of contracted researchers, one of whom responded that it “Seems dificult [sic] to do quietly without them becoming aware of efforts.”
Neither Bannon, Yiannopoulos, Gacek, nor the Family Research Council responded to multiple requests for comment on the exchange, and it’s unclear whether the men’s plans ever advanced beyond spitballing on email.
But the news that Bannon wanted to infiltrate the Facebook hiring process comes as the social media giant faces increased scrutiny from Washington over political ads on the platform and the part it played in the 2016 election. That charge — and the threat of regulation — has mostly come from the left. But conservatives, who have often complained about the liberal bias of the major tech companies, have also argued for bringing Silicon Valley to heel. Earlier this month, former White House chief strategist told an audience in Hong Kong that he was leading efforts to regulate Facebook and Google as “public utilities.”
The secret attempt to find bias in Facebook’s hiring process reflects longstanding conservative fears that Facebook and the other tech giants are run by liberals who suppress right-wing views both internally and on their dominant platforms. Facebook’s powerful COO, Sheryl Sandberg, is a longtime Democratic donor who endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. In May 2016, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was forced to meet with dozens of prominent conservatives after a report surfaced that the company’s employees prevented right-leaning stories from reaching the platform’s “trending” section.
The company has sought to deflect such criticism through hiring. Its vice president of global public policy, Joel Kaplan, was a deputy chief of staff in the George W. Bush White House. And more recently, Facebook has made moves to represent the Breitbart wing of the Republican party on its policy team, tapping a former top staffer to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to be the director of executive branch public policy in May.
The job listing Gacek attached in his email to Bannon was for a public policy manager position in Washington, DC, working on the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messenger. The job description included such responsibilities as “Develop and execute WhatsApp’s global policy strategy” and “Represent WhatsApp in meetings with government officials and elected members.” It sought candidates with law degrees and 10 years of public policy experience.
Facebook did not provide a comment for the story. But according to a source with knowledge of the hiring process, WhatsApp didn’t exactly get infiltrated by the pro-Trump right: The company hired Christine Turner, former director of trade policy and global supply chain security in President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, for the role.
Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.
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