- Top Facebook exec says people risk “overreacting to the bad” aspects of social media.
- The former UK Deputy Prime Minister said the company has been made a scapegoat for the rise of nationalist populism.
- He pushed back against the “tech lash,” a wave of growing scrutiny of the tech giants, in a speech in Berlin on Monday.
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Top Facebook executive and former British politician Nick Clegg has argued that people are at risk of “overreacting to the bad” aspects of social media and damaging its positive potential as a result.
In a speech in Berlin on Monday evening, the former UK Deputy Prime Minister and ex-Liberal Democrat leader pushed back against the “tech lash” – a wave of growing scrutiny of giant technology companies like Facebook, and increasing calls for oversight or even antitrust action against them.
Facebook has been battered by two years of scandals – from political research firm Cambridge Analytica’s misappropriation of tens of millions of users’ data to the social network’s role in spreading hate speech in Myanmar. The Silicon Valley tech giant is now frantically trying to prove that it has made meaningful changes in light of these crises, and is attempting to head off the most aggressive calls for regulation – from the likes of US presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, and Facebook cofounder-turned-critic Chris Hughes – by proposing its own regulatory remedies.
“That early utopianism [in the tech industry] was never going to last – and the tech lash that has followed it won’t last either,” Clegg said, according to a transcript of his comments provided by a spokesperson.
“But my fear is that the often exaggerated and lopsided debate that now exists around tech may lead to the baby being thrown out with the bath water. We are perilously close to squandering the good of social media by overreacting to the bad.”
He acknowledged the company had erred in how it handled user data in the past, and that Facebook “has not always thought deeply enough about how its services could be used – or indeed abused – by authoritarian regimes.”
But he went on to criticise those who accuse the company of doing more fundamental harm to democracy and public discourse. “Some of the charges that have been leveled at Facebook are far wide of the mark,” he said. “If you listened to some of our more breathless critics you could be forgiven for thinking that we are single-handedly dismantling western democracy: collaborating with the Russians, the Iranians, the Bilderberg Group, the Illuminati and the guys who faked the moon landings to manipulate our citizens, rig elections and tear down our democratic institutions.”
He suggested that Facebook is being unfairly blamed for the rise of nationalist populism. “I understand the millions of people who are surprised (many are still dismayed) at the result of the 2016 Presidential election, or at Brexit, and they quite understandably want a way to explain what has happened. For many, Facebook has become the scapegoat – the malign force that has manipulated otherwise right-thinking people into acting against their own interests. But it is not the case. “
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