Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan
Photo: Ian Tuttle/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize

The true story behind 'Zuck Bucks'

Protocol Policy

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today, we’re talking about how Mark Zuckerberg found himself at the center of one of the U.S. election’s most enduring conspiracies. Plus, D.C. sues Zuckerberg and Twitter pays the “chaos tax.”

Zuck Bucks

If you’ve paid any attention to the ongoing efforts to overturn and undermine the 2020 election, you have almost certainly come across the term “Zuck Bucks.”

It’s the name a conspiratorial-minded conservative might use to refer to the whopping $419 million Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan donated in 2020 to help election officials manage a historically high turnout election in the midst of a pandemic.

Ask those election officials — from around 2,500 election departments in 47 states — and they’ll tell you the money was heaven-sent and critical to their ability to buy essential equipment like ballot sorters and PPE. Ask a hardcore Trump supporter, and they’ll tell you the money was corrupt, and used by one of the country’s most divisive billionaires to buy the 2020 election for President Biden.

Today, Protocol published the story of what really happened and how Zuckerberg’s millions went from saving the 2020 election to becoming the beating heart of efforts to undermine it — and future elections going forward.

As in everything he does, Zuckerberg tried his best to stay neutral in 2020.

  • He offered nearly half a billion dollars in grants to any election official who wanted one, as long as those officials spent it on what a lot of people would consider mundane essentials: ballot sorters, drop boxes, poll workers and — because it was 2020 — hand sanitizer.
  • And when those election officials applied for more money than he originally offered, he kicked in another $119 million to satisfy the rest of the requests. Because the last thing he wanted was for anyone to claim they got stiffed and accuse him of bias. What a disaster that would be.

It was a fool’s errand.

  • At a time when Republicans are rapidly restricting access to the ballot box in states across the country, spending nearly half a billion dollars to do the exact opposite of that is tantamount to a partisan choice. Or, at least, it was bound to be viewed that way.
  • And Zuckerberg is hardly a neutral figure. The Zuck Bucks theory is in many ways the real world analog of the accusations of bias Meta has been facing for years.

As much as the money was essential to carrying out the 2020 election, the backlash has had lasting consequences for elections in America.

  • It inspired new restrictions on election funding in more than a dozen states, leading to death threats and harassment against the nonprofit leaders who distributed the money and contributing to the resignations of election officials who accepted it.
  • In some ways, that’s left election offices across the country worse off than they were two years ago — still strapped for cash, and now with no ability to raise outside funding.

It’s likely to have lasting consequences for Meta too: Whatever moves the company makes in the midterms and beyond, this supposed scandal will be just another data point used to pressure Meta to bend to one party’s will.

Read the full story at

— Issie Lapowsky (email | twitter)

In Washington

More than a dozen senators wrote to the FTC asking it to do more to protect people’s location data in the face of the Supreme Court’s likely decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The letter follows reports on how SafeGraph and other companies have sold data on devices located near Planned Parenthood clinics.

Microsoft and the German Marshall Fund are launching a task force on transatlantic data sharing in hopes of advising policymakers as they work to negotiate the U.S.-EU Trans-Atlantic Data Privacy Framework. The task force, co-chaired by Microsoft’s Julie Brill and GMF’s Karen Kornbluh, also includes representatives from Meta and BSA, also known as the Software Alliance.

Speaking of international data flows, more than 50 countries are working to control how their citizens’ data can be accessed by other nations. That includes the U.S., where the Biden administration is circulating a draft order cutting China off from American data, the New York Times reports.

In the courts

Match Group withdrew a request for a temporary restraining order against Google after Google said it would let Match use alternative payment systems. The request for the restraining order came as part of Match’s antitrust suit over the Play Store’s fees. That suit is still ongoing and is set to go to trial in April 2023.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine has sued Mark Zuckerberg over Cambridge Analytica. The charges against Zuckerberg follow Racine’s separate 2018 suit over Facebook’s data practices. “This unprecedented security breach exposed tens of millions of Americans’ personal information, and Mr. Zuckerberg’s policies enabled a multi-year effort to mislead users about the extent of Facebook’s wrongful conduct,” Racine said in a statement.

Florida’s social media law likely violates the First Amendment, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in an opinion. The court upheld an injunction on most of the law, with the exception of the less onerous provisions requiring disclosure of content standards, among other things. The decision comes as the tech industry awaits the Supreme Court’s reply to an emergency application in the Texas case.


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On Protocol

Meta will finally share political ad targeting data with pre-vetted researchers. The company has publicly clashed with researchers at New York University over this very data. Meta will also share aggregate targeting information through its Ad Library, which is accessible to anyone.

Around the world

Apple is looking to India and Vietnam as potential production hubs as China’s COVID-19 restrictions inhibit the company’s operations. According to The Wall Street Journal, Apple has been telling contractors to increase production outside of China.

Here’s a look at a day in the life of startup founders in Ukraine, where the once-vibrant tech community is trying to make a comeback while huddling in bedroom closets and underground bunkers.

In the media, culture and metaverse

YouTube has taken “unprecedented action” related to the war in Ukraine, according to Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan.The company has removed more than 70,000 videos and 9,000 channels pertaining to the war in Ukraine under a policy that forbids denial of major violent events. That includes videos that refer to the war as a “liberation mission.”

Clearview AI was ordered to delete all facial recognition data on U.K. residents. The order from the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s office follows similar demands by France, Italy and Australia. But it’s unclear how these orders can be enforced.

In the C-suite

Twitter’s new head of Product, Jay Sullivan, told employees the “chaos tax” at Twitter is likely to continue, according to internal messages viewed by The Wall Street Journal. Elon Musk’s on-again, off-again attempt to acquire Twitter has led to 15 all-hands or large-scale meetings at Twitter in just a matter of weeks, the Journal reports.

In data

$10 billion: That’s how much Elon Musk’s net worth dropped in a single day, after Business Insider reported on the sexual harassment allegations against him. To think: Now, he’s only got $201 billion to his name.


Once a company understands its sustainability baseline, it is important to identify areas that the company can feasibly make more sustainable, and then address those areas. Implementing technology that improves connectivity and provides greater insight into operations will prove to be the solution for many companies.

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Pour one out

The last pay phone in Manhattan was removed today. Just watch as it sails away to pay phone heaven. Rest in peace, old friend. The rotaries and Nokia bricks await you on the other side.

Thanks for reading — see you Wednesday!

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