Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has taken a defiant stand against his critics, telling an audience, “My goal for this next decade isn’t to be liked, but to be understood.”
“This is the new approach, and I think it’s going to piss off a lot of people,” he said at Silicon Slopes Tech Summit 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah, as reported by CNBC. “We’re going to stand up for free expression. It’s unfortunate that this is such a controversial thing.”
Earlier this year, Facebook announced that it would not ban political ads that lie to voters, and in what was generally seen as an abdication of responsibility, Zuckerberg said it was not the site’s job to fact-check the content which appears in paid ads. This comes despite pressure from fact-checking organizations to move against disinformation and the fact that other sites like Google and Twitter have taken steps to limit or ban political advertising on their platforms.
Zuckerberg’s latest attempt to re-frame the site’s hands-off approach to factual reality and embracing of the manipulation of users as “standing up for free speech” will not convince many skeptics of Facebook’s good intentions.
While free speech is undeniably essential for a robust and healthy democracy, there have always been limitations on that principle, from banning the yelling of “fire” in a crowded theater to laws against defamation. Offline advertisements are subject to truth in advertising laws, and political ads must adhere to rules set by governing bodies.
Facebook’s refusal to take responsibility for the lies and inaccuracies spread on its platform, which has already had profound effects on international politics, and its attempts to spin this refusal as a brave stand for its deeply-held values, is transparently self-serving.
It has been a weekend of harsh criticism of Facebook. Progressive investor and philanthropist George Soros penned an op-ed in the New York Times warning that Zuckerberg and Facebook would help President Donald Trump get re-elected in 2020, saying he believes there is “an informal mutual assistance operation or agreement developing” between the two.
Soros thinks this alliance is driven not by shared political beliefs but by greed: “I believe that Mr. Trump and Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, realize that their interests are aligned — the president’s in winning elections, Mr. Zuckerberg’s in making money,” he wrote. Facebook’s leadership “follow only one guiding principle: Maximize profits irrespective of the consequences.”
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