Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) accused CEO Mark Zuckerberg of allowing coronavirus hoaxes and misinformation to spread on Facebook because it’s “engaging” and “good for business” during an intense clash at Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee antitrust hearing on Big Tech.
“The more engagement there is, the more money you make,” said Cicilline, who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, on the topic of Facebook’s incentive to leave up content that may be harmful — like the rapid spread of coronavirus misinformation currently making waves across the social media platform.
Cicilline listed some of the top posts on Facebook this year, which included a quote from President Donald Trump claiming that injecting disinfectant can clean the lungs, and how the coronavirus pandemic is a political hoax. He also referenced a widespread conspiracy theory video that falsely claimed hydroxychloroquine is an effective cure for the coronavirus and that face masks do not stop the spread of COVID-19. The video gained more than 20 million views before Facebook took it down.
“During the biggest public health crisis of our lifetime, don’t you agree that these articles viewed by millions on your platform will cost lives?” asked Cicilline. “Doesn’t that suggest, Mr. Zuckerberg, that your platform is so big that even with the right policies in place, you can’t contain deadly content?”
“Well congressman, a lot of people shared that,” Zuckerberg said of the video. “I think we have a responsibility to limit the spread of content that we think is going to be harmful.”
Wednesday’s hearing was supposed to be focused on antitrust issues within Big Tech, but Facebook’s historic “hands-off” approach when it comes to moderating content got considerable screen time. Facebook has been known to defend its position to leave up posts that have spread misinformation or provoked violence. In June, Facebook came under fire from critics for leaving up a post by President Trump that glorified violence against Black Lives Matter protesters, a move Zuckerberg defended, which led to a large advertising boycott throughout July.
Zuckerberg said Wednesday that he believes Facebook has been doing a good job at moderating misinformation on the platform during the spread of COVID-19 by uplifting authoritative resources, like referencing people to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the World Health Organization, for more information.
However, lately, coronavirus misinformation has been running rampant through the platform, thanks to conspiracy theory groups like QAnon. In May, a misinformation-filled documentary entitled “Plandemic” made waves on Facebook, and it took nearly a week before the social media platform took it down.
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