In the middle of testimony over Facebook’s privacy scandal, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas took a moment to grill Mark Zuckerberg over his company’s political loyalties.
In the course of a testy exchange between Sen. Cruz and Zuckerberg, the senator brought up the dismissal of Palmer Luckey, the controversial founder of virtual reality tech development pioneer, Oculus.
It was part of Cruz’s broader questioning about whether or not Facebook is biased in the ways it moderates the posts and accounts of members — and in its staffing policies.
Here’s the exchange:
Cruz: Do you know the political orientation of those 15 to 20,000 people engaged in content review?
Zuckerberg: No senator, we do not generally ask people about their political orientation when they’re joining the company.
Cruz: So, as CEO Have you ever made hiring or firing decisions based on political positions or what candidates they supported?
Cruz: Why was Palmer Luckey fired?
Zuckerberg: That is a specific personnel matter that seems like it would be inappropriate to speak to here.
Cruz: You just made a specific representation that you didn’t make decisions based on political views, is that accurate?
Zuckerberg: I can commit that it was not because of a political view.
Luckey left Facebook last March, after reports surfaced that he was a member of a pro-Trump troll farm called Nimble America.
Luckey’s departure follows a lengthy period of absence from public view brought about by a Daily Beast piece revealing his involvement and funding of a pro-Trump troll group called Nimble America. News of his support came during a time when very few figures in Silicon Valley were publicly showing support for candidate Trump, the most notable being Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook who started the VC firm Founders Fund, which backed Oculus, as well.
Though Luckey initially denied funding the group, he ultimately took to social media to apologize in the midst of an upheaval that had many developers threatening to leave the platform. His last public statement (on Facebook, of course) was a mixture of regret and defense, reading, in part, “I am deeply sorry that my actions are negatively impacting the perception of Oculus and its partners. The recent news stories about me do not accurately represent my views… my actions were my own and do not represent Oculus. I’m sorry for the impact my actions are having on the community.”
Sen. Cruz could have had another reason in bringing up Luckey during Zuckerberg’s testimony. The virtual reality entrepreneur has donated some very real dollars to the senator’s coffers (as Buzzfeed reporter Ryan Mac noted).