In comments earlier this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg argued that social-media companies should strive to avoid regulating the views of users.
“I don’t think Facebook or internet platforms in general should be arbiters of truth,” Zuckerberg said in an interview with CNBC. “I think that’s kind of a dangerous line to get to in terms of deciding what is true and what isn’t.”
His comments came on the heels of the recent back-and-forth between Donald Trump and Twitter, after the social-media platform began appending fact-check–style disclaimers to some of the president’s tweets, and Trump shot back with an executive order taking ineffectual aim at Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Twitter’s move to censure the president was a response to pressure from progressives incensed by Trump’s repeated tweets pushing conspiracy theories alleging that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough was involved in a murder and coverup.
Facebook aims not to fact-check speech by politicians, but it does employ third-party fact-checkers in an effort to flag news articles that are inaccurate. This policy has drawn the ire of conservatives in the past, for instance when pro-life group Live Action had its content flagged by two biased fact-checkers, one of whom is an abortionist and both of whom work with aggressively pro-abortion groups.
As Zuckerberg puts it, Facebook aims to remove information it deems “harmful,” for instance when the company took down a recent post by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro arguing that hydroxychloroquine is an effective COVID-19 treatment. There is certainly room to quibble with a policy that puts social-media fact-checkers in charge of deciding what information is harmful and what constitutes acceptable expression.
Nevertheless, the fact that Zuckerberg has reiterated Facebook’s commitment to avoid blocking political speech is admirable, especially compared with Twitter’s recent decision to begin monitoring the president, which places the company in the impossible position of somehow successfully arbitrating every political dispute.
“In general, you want to give as wide of a voice as possible, and I think you want to have a special deference to political speech,” Zuckerberg added. His willingness to, at the very least, pay lip service to free expression has drawn the vigorous condemnation of Democratic politicians.
“As far as the platforms are concerned, they want two things from the federal government: no regulation and no taxes. And so they cater to the Trump administration all the time. I think that Mark Zuckerberg’s statement was a disgrace,” House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said in an interview on MSNBC yesterday.
Massachusetts senator and failed presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, was even harsher, sounding more than a bit like Trump in her zeal: “Zuckerberg went on Fox News—a hate-for-profit machine that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracy theorists—to talk about how social media platforms should essentially allow politicians to lie without consequences. This is eroding our democracy.”