- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he’s still an “idealistic person” who believes giving everyone a voice is fundamentally a good thing.
- That is despite 18 months of persistent scandal for Facebook, including the Christchurch shooter livestreaming his lethal attacks on two mosques on the platform, the rise of anti-vaccine misinformation, and a number of data scandals.
- Zuckerberg also called for new laws around political advertising, saying it shouldn’t be up to a private company to decide what qualifies as political content.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg described himself as an “idealistic person” who believes giving everyone a voice online is fundamentally a good thing, despite serious issues such as the livestreamed Christchurch shooting, the Cambridge Analytica data leak, and misinformation.
In an interview with ABC News that aired on Thursday, Zuckerberg said he was “more surprised than I should have been” about the many hits Facebook has taken over the last 18 months.
He said: “I think, in retrospect, one of the big reflections was that I’m a very idealistic person, right? I built this because I believe that giving everyone a voice is going to be a positive thing. And I still believe that.
“But I think now I have a little more awareness that when you give everyone a voice, and you help everyone connect with the people they want, if you’re serving 2 billion people you’re going to see a lot of amazing things that people are capable of. But you’re also going to see people try to abuse those systems in every way, maybe unfortunately.”
He added: “And I do believe still, overall, giving people a voice is a positive thing.”
Critics of Facebook suggest that issues such as screen addiction and depression, electoral misinformation, and online hate speech might be partly solved by decreasing Facebook’s power. Zuckerberg’s company owns the three most popular social apps in the world with Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
Zuckerberg, by contrast, does not appear to think the answer is less Facebook. He appeared to dismiss the idea of altering core Facebook features, such as livestreaming.
In one example of his thinking, he refused to consider the idea of putting a delay on video livestreams.
The suspected Christchurch shooter who killed 50 people in an attack on two mosques livestreamed the entire attack on Facebook. The stream was watched 200 times before it was taken down, but by then people had ripped copies of the video and posted them to other mainstream sites such as YouTube.
Asked if a delay would help, Zuckerberg said: “You know, it might, in this case. But it would also fundamentally break what livestreaming is for people.
“Most people are livestreaming, you know, a birthday party or hanging out with friends when they can’t be together. And it’s one of the things that’s magical about livestreaming is that it’s bi-directional, right? So you’re not just broadcasting. You’re communicating. And people are commenting back. So if you had a delay that would break that.”
Finally, Zuckerberg called for clearer laws to define what counts as political advertising.
Facebook has come under pressure for hosting ads relating to elections and hot-button political issues without displaying clearly who has paid for them. It has implemented ad transparency rules in the UK, US, India, and the EU, but journalists have found it’s easy to skirt the new rules.
Zuckerberg noted that Russian trolls, when interfering in the 2016 presidential election, didn’t run what would be considered political ads but instead got people fired up over divisive issues.
He said: “One of the things that’s unclear is what is the definition of a political ad? All of the laws primarily focus on a candidate and election, but that’s not primarily what Russia tried to do. What we saw them doing was talking about divisive political issues. The goal wasn’t to advance the issue forward, it was just to rile people up and be divisive.”
A private company, Zuckerberg added, shouldn’t be deciding what qualifies as a political ad.
Zuckerberg’s ABC interview aired hours after security researchers found that millions of Facebook users’ records were sitting openly on an Amazon server, in an incident reminiscent of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Separately, researchers released a paper suggesting that Facebook’s advertising systems discriminate by race and gender, even when told not to.
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