- Mark Zuckerberg shared his thoughts on freedom of expression and Facebook’s role on the internet during a 35-minute speech at Georgetown University.
- During the speech, the Facebook CEO and cofounder focused on how free expression on the site had led to powerful social movements, and he identified three major threats to freedom of speech on the internet.
- Zuckerberg said he was concerned by the spread of laws that restrict free speech online, admitted that Facebook and other social media platforms run the risk of restricting their users’ speech, and said that people are trying to redefine what types of speech are dangerous.
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Speaking to a live audience at Georgetown University, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s role in providing a voice to more than 2 billion people of around the world, and why he feels it’s essential to protect freedom of expression on the internet.
“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,” Zuckerberg said. “People no longer have to rely on traditional gatekeepers in politics or media to make their voices heard, and that has important consequences.”
Though Facebook has faced constant criticism for allowing misinformation to spread on the platform, Zuckerberg focused on the positive action that has resulted from people expressing themselves freely on social media. During the 35-minute speech, Zuckerberg pointed to the spread of social movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter as examples of free speech being used for good.
Read more: Mark Zuckerberg just slammed China for allegedly censoring Hong Kong protest videos on TikTok: ‘Is that the internet we want?’
Zuckerberg acknowledged that many of the Russian agents who meddled with the 2016 presidential election used fake identities to pose as Americans and spread “distasteful” content. But he said rather than restricting what can be said on Facebook, it’s more important for the company to focus on preventing fake accounts from making an impact.
“Focusing on authenticity and verifying accounts is a much better solution than an ever-expanding definition of what speech is harmful,” Zuckerberg said. He said that Facebook identifies 99% of terrorist content before it appears in anyone’s feed, and the company removes billions of fake accounts every year, often within a few minutes of them signing up for the site.
While discussing the steps Facebook has taken to defend freedom of expression, Zuckerberg also identified the three largest threats he sees to free speech on the internet, and around the world. He mentioned the increase and spread of laws that restrict free speech online, admitted that Facebook and other social media platforms run the risk of restricting their users’ speech, and said that people are trying to redefine what types of speech are dangerous.
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Zuckerberg is concerned that regulations in places like China that restrict free speech could spread to other parts of the world.
“We’re increasingly seeing laws and regulations around the world that undermine free expression and people’s human rights,” Zuckerberg said. “These local laws are each individually troubling, especially when they shut down speech in places where there isn’t democracy or freedom of the press. But it’s even worse when countries try to impose their speech restrictions on the rest of the world.”
Much of Zuckerberg’s comments on laws limiting free speech were focused on China’s strict media regulations. The country has been the subject of international controversy for restricting certain types of posts on social media and launching counter-campaigns against pro-Hong Kong activists on social media. The NBA also saw many of its Chinese business relationships jeopardized by a lone pro-Hong Kong tweet from an American employee.
“China is building its own internet focused on very different values, and is now exporting their vision of the internet to other countries,” Zuckerberg said. ” Until recently, the internet in almost every country outside China has been defined by American platforms with strong free expression values. There’s no guarantee these values will win out. A decade ago, almost all of the major internet platforms were American. Today, six of the top ten are Chinese.”
Zuckerberg also talked about Facebook’s former VP for Latin American, Diego Dzodan, being arrested in Brazil for withholding encrypted WhatsApp data from law enforcement. Dzodan told authorities that the company couldn’t produce the encrypted information, and was jailed for 24 hours before a judge ordered his release.
Zuckerberg said that social media platforms pose a threat to freedom of expression due to the amount of control they have over their users.
Zuckerberg also said that social media platform holders are responsible for many of the decisions that control people’s speech online. Facebook and Twitter have been accused of having a leftist bias by President Donald Trump and both platforms are regularly criticized for their moderation policies.
“I understand people are concerned about bias and making sure their ideas are treated fairly,” Zuckerberg said. “Frankly, I don’t think we should be making so many important decisions about speech on our own either. We’d benefit from a more democratic process, clearer rules for the internet, and new institutions.”
Last month Facebook announced that it would establish an oversight board to make content policy decisions. The board will have up to 40 members and is funded by a independent trust.
“Building this institution is important to me personally because I’m not always going to be here, and I want to ensure the values of voice and free expression are enshrined deeply into how this company is governed,” Zuckerberg said.
He added that while Facebook wont allow speech or expression that promote violence, the company will err on the side of allowing expression rather than restricting it. That includes protecting posts and ads that may contain misinformation, so long as they don’t lead to harm.
Finally, Zuckerberg believes that people attempting to redefine certain types of expression as dangerous could be harmful to the democratic process.
Zuckerberg said the world is in a state of tension caused by globalization and the spread of technology, comparing the current moment to World War I and the American Civil Rights moment.
However, he said the tension has also led to distrust, and people are trying to restrict one another’s voices to protect their own political interests.
“Increasingly, we’re seeing people try to define more speech as dangerous because it may lead to political outcomes they see as unacceptable,” Zuckerberg said. “Some hold the view that since the stakes are so high, they can no longer trust their fellow citizens with the power to communicate and decide what to believe for themselves.”
Zuckerberg said that this type of censorship could do more long term damage to the country’s democratic process than the speech it intends to silence.