Amid longtime charges of political bias waged by conservatives and Republicans, including President Trump, Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg assured Americans Thursday he is not using his company to censor and only removes “harmful” or “dangerous” content to prevent polarization and prevent violence.
Facebook, which has permanently banned top conservative journalists and pundits and purged hundreds of media outlets from its platform, relies on the American tradition of freedom of expression that is protected under the First Amendment but still has a responsibility to remove “harmful” content, Zucker claimed in a wide-sweeping speech to students at Georgetown University on Thursday.
“I am proud that our values at Facebook are inspired by the American tradition which is more important than anywhere else in the world,” he said. “But even American tradition recognizes that some speech infringes on other people’s rights.
“Yet, still a strict First Amendment standard might require to allow things like terrorist propaganda or bullying people, that almost everyone agrees we should stop and I certainly do,” he continued. “As well as content like pornography that would just make a lot of people uncomfortable using our platforms. So, once we are taking this content down, the question is where do we draw the line?”
Freedom of expression “has never been absolute,” but the majority of people in society want to ban “dangerous” speech, Zuckerberg warned.
“Most people agree that you should be able to say things people don’t like, but you shouldn’t be able to say things that put other people in real danger. And the shift over the last several years is that more people today would argue that more speech is dangerous now than it would have been several years back,” he said. “So, this raises this question as exactly what counts as dangerous online and I would like to spend some time examining that in detail today.”
While technological advances of the internet allow people around the world to have more reach and connect, the web is also being used unprecedentedly to facilitate violence and intensify polarization, Zuckerberg argued.
“Perhaps the clearest difference of the internet is that now a lot more people have a voice, almost half of the world’s population and that is dramatically empowering,” he said, “but inevitably some people are going to use their voice to try to organize violence, to try to undermine elections, to hurt others. And we have a responsibility to address these risks because when you are serving billions of people, even if a very small percent of them cause harm, that can still be a lot of harm.”
“We built specific systems to address each type of harmful content, from incitement of violence to child exploitation to other kinds of harm, like intellectual property violations — it’s about twenty categories in total. We judge ourselves by the prevalence of harmful content on our services and by the percent of that content that we find proactively before anyone has to report it to us.”
Zuckerberg detailed the measures Facebook has taken to remove child exploitation, terrorism, and fake accounts from its platform, employing thousands of people to work on security, but did not address the company’s rampant shadowbannng and censorship of conservative content.
“Our AI systems identify 99 percent of the terrorist content that we take down before anyone sees it. To do this, that is a massive investment. We now have more than 35,000 people working on security and our security budget today is greater than the whole revenue of our company was when we had an IPO earlier this decade. Now, all this work though, is about enforcing our existing policies, not necessarily broadening our definition of what we consider dangerous. And I think that if we do this well, we will be able to stop a lot of harm while also fighting back against putting additional restrictions on speech.”
Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s decision to allow misinformation in political advertising, despite high profile backlash against the policy who argue the tech giant is enabling political leaders including Trump to disseminate propaganda.
“Given the sensitivity around political ads, I’ve considered whether we should stop allowing them altogether,” he said. “But political ads are an important part of voice – especially for local candidates, up-and-coming challengers, and advocacy groups that may not get much media attention otherwise. Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media covers.”
“I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judge to be 100 percent true,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right for private companies to censor politicians or the news in a democracy.
Facebook still may remove content from political leaders when it may lead to “harm,” he continued, “when it’s not absolutely clear what to do, I believe we should err on the side of greater expression.”
Zuckerberg touted his company’s free speech bonafides by taking aim at communist China, explaining Facebook doesn’t operate in the nation because it couldn’t come to an agreement with Chinese censors.
“Until recently the internet in almost every country outside of China has been defined by American platforms with strong free expression values,” he said. “But there’s no guarantee these values will win out.”
In May the monopolistic company permanently suspended the accounts of Laura Loomer, Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, and Infowars from the platform and subsidiary social media site, Instagram. Facebook justified the ban arguing their accounts violated its policies against dangerous individuals and organizations.
Trump has repeatedly blasted Facebook for being “anti-Trump,” and violating antitrust law, while his supporters have long warned the social media network is demonstrably and brazenly biased against conservatives.
Earlier this year, Trump warned the platform is on the side of the “Radical Left Democrats.”
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