Marcy Gordon, Associated Press
Published Thursday, 17 October 2019 20:03 EDT
WASHINGTON [Reuters] – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday defended the social media platform's refusal to remove content that it deems prominent "even if it is against our standards." But while he promoted freedom of expression, there were limitations on the coverage of his comments at Georgetown University.
Reporters were not allowed to ask questions – only the students had this chance, filtered by a moderator. Facebook and Georgetown prevented news organizations from filming. Instead, the organizers provided a live broadcast on Georgetown's social media site and made videos filmed by Facebook.
"It's pretty ironic," said Sally Hubbard, director of law enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute and former state prosecutor. More generally, she said of Facebook, "the key to free speech is not having a company controlling the flow of speech to more than 2 billion people using algorithms that amplify misinformation to maximize profits."
Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other companies are trying to oversee Internet content, while avoiding violating First Amendment rights. The pendulum has recently changed to restrict the hate speech that could lead to violence. The change comes after mass shootings in which suspects posted racist plaques online or expressed hateful opinions or broadcast images of attacks.
Facebook has also been criticized for not doing enough to filter out fake political ads.
"At the moment, we're doing a very good job of making everyone mad at us," Zuckerberg told Georgetown's crowded salon.
He said serious threats to speech came from places like China, where the social media platforms used by protesters are censored and from court rulings that restrict the location of Internet user data in certain countries.
"I am here today because I believe we should continue to defend freedom of expression," he said. People of various political beliefs are trying to define expansive speech as dangerous because it can bring results they do not accept, Zuckerberg said. "Personally, I think this is more dangerous for democracy in the long run than almost any speech."
Noting the growing criticism of the market dominance of Facebook and other technology giants, Zuckerberg acknowledged the centralized power of business, but said it was also "decentralized, putting it directly in people's hands… Hand."
John Stanton, a former Georgetown colleague who leads a group called the "Save Journalism Project," called the CEO's appearance "a joke."
Zuckerberg "is the antithesis of freedom of expression," Stanton said in a statement. "He threw freedom of speech, public education and democracy into the path of his thirst for power and profit."
The social media giant, with nearly 2.5 billion users worldwide, is under close scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators following a string of data privacy scandals, including lapses in opening millions of users' personal data to the campaign. of Trump in 2016.
Facebook and other social media platforms have received accusations from President Donald Trump and his allies that their platforms are shrouded in anti-conservative bias.
Zuckerberg recently clashed with Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the top Democratic presidential candidates, who ran a fake political ad on Facebook, targeting the CEO. Warren proposed the separation of large technology companies. With the fake announcement, she was protesting Facebook's policy of not checking politicians' speech or announcements just as it convinces outside parties to check news and other posts.
"We think people should see for themselves," Zuckerberg said on Thursday about the fact-checking issue. "If the content is noteworthy, we don't rule it out, even if it's against our standards."
The social media network also rejected requests to remove a misleading video ad from Trump's reelection campaign against Democrat Joe Biden.
A spokesman for Biden said Zuckerberg's speech was an effort "to cover up Facebook policy in a feigned concern for free speech."
"Facebook has chosen to sell Americans' personal data to politicians seeking to attack them with unproven lies and conspiracy theories, extolling the voices of American workers," campaign spokesman Bill Russo said in a statement.
Several student questions to Zuckerberg in Georgetown pointed to the conflict. Someone asked, if Facebook supports free speech, "why is conservative content disproportionately censored?" But another said the policy of not checking political ads is pro-conservative.
"I think it would be hard to be biased against both sides," Zuckerberg replied, smiling.
Asked about the handling of the questions, Facebook spokeswoman Ruchika Budhjara said: "They were sent by the students as they entered the room. And they are randomly chosen by Georgetown."