Today, Mark Zuckerberg spoke at Georgetown University about the importance of protecting free expression. He underscored his belief that giving everyone a voice empowers the powerless and pushes society to be better over time.
In front of students at the school’s Gaston Hall, Mark warned that we’re increasingly seeing laws and regulations around the world that undermine free expression and human rights. He argued that in order to make sure people can continue to have a voice, we should: 1) write policy that helps the values of voice and expression triumph around the world, 2) fend off the urge to define speech we don’t like as dangerous, and 3) build new institutions so companies like Facebook aren’t making so many important decisions about speech on our own.
"People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society. People no longer have to rely on traditional gatekeepers in politics or media to make their voices heard, and that has important consequences. I understand the concerns about how tech platforms have centralized power, but I actually believe the much bigger story is how much these platforms have decentralized power by putting it directly into people’s hands. It’s part of this amazing expansion of voice through law, culture and technology," Zuckerberg said.
Zuckerberg also said internet services like Facebook can still protect free expression while addressing problems that have been raised by this new technology. He acknowledged that when everyone has a voice, some people will use that to try to organize violence and influence elections. At Facebook’s scale, even if a very small percentage of people try to cause harm, that’s still a lot, Zuckerberg said. The company has chosen to focus on the authenticity of the speaker rather than judging the content itself, he said.
In recent weeks, Facebook has been criticized for a policy that allows election advertisements with false information. The presidential campaigns of Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have called on Facebook to remove ads from U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign. Facebook has declined to do so, raising the larger question of whether social media political ads should be regulated. Zuckerberg said on Thursday that he’s considered getting rid of political ads altogether, but banning them would favor incumbents.
“I don’t want to live in a world where people can only post things that tech companies judge to be true,” Zuckerberg said Thursday on the subject of political ads. “In a democracy people should decide what’s credible, not tech companies.”
"Political advertising is more transparent on Facebook than anywhere else — we keep all political and issue ads in an archive so everyone can scrutinize them, and no TV or print does that. We don’t fact-check political ads. We don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying. And if content is newsworthy, we also won’t take it down even if it would otherwise conflict with many of our standards."
"I know many people disagree, but, in general, I don’t think it’s right for a private company to censor politicians or the news in a democracy. And we’re not an outlier here. The other major internet platforms and the vast majority of media also run these same ads," Zuckerberg added.
"Given the sensitivity around political ads, I’ve considered whether we should stop allowing them altogether. From a business perspective, the controversy certainly isn’t worth the small part of our business they make up. But political ads are an important part of voice — especially for local candidates, up-and-coming challengers, and advocacy groups that may not get much media attention otherwise. Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media covers," he said.
Facebook’s rules on what stays up and gets taken down on its social network, as well as on Instagram, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp platforms, are applied by a global group of thousands of low-wage contractors. The company is also building an independent oversight board that can be the last word on Facebook decisions that users disagree with.
He also talked about the expansion of fake news on facebook and how the company is handling the issue.
"The solution is to verify the identities of accounts getting wide distribution and get better at removing fake accounts. We now require you to provide a government ID and prove your location if you want to run political ads or a large page. You can still say controversial things, but you have to stand behind them with your real identity and face accountability," he said.
"Our AI systems have also gotten more advanced at detecting clusters of fake accounts that aren’t behaving like humans. We now remove billions of fake accounts a year — most within minutes of registering and before they do much. Focusing on authenticity and verifying accounts is a much better solution than an ever-expanding definition of what speech is harmful," Zuckerberg added.
Zuckerberg also talked about China and the fact that Facebook could not unable to overcome the country's strict censorship.
“I wanted our services in China because I believe in connecting the whole world, and I thought maybe we could help creating a more open society,” Zuckerberg said.
“I worked hard on this for a long time, but we could never come to agreement on what it would take for us to operate there,” he said. “They never let us in.”
Facebook tried for years to break into China, one of the last great obstacles to Zuckerberg’s vision of connecting the world’s entire population on the company’s apps.
In March, Zuckerberg announced his plan to pivot Facebook toward more private forms of communication and pledged not to build data centers in countries “that have a track record of violating human rights like privacy or freedom of expression.”
Next week, Zuckerberg is set to testify at a congressional hearing that will probably serve as a wide-ranging review of the company’s business practices. Facebook’s size, meanwhile, has become a primary object of derision from some Democrats seeking the White House in 2020, who contend that Facebook is too big, powerful and problematic and should be regulated or broken apart.