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Mark Zuckerberg did an hour and a half interview with the Recode Decode podcast about the future of Facebook and the measures they’re taking to protect privacy and stop the dissemination of fake news. As we saw during his Congressional testimony, he has his talking points and they’re vague and not reassuring. They involve “gee this happened so fast, we used to work out of our dorm,” “we did some stuff already to stop these people, we had no idea it would get so bad” and “facebook is mostly used for good, it’s ok we’re working on it.” Mark got asked why he’s letting Infowars stay on Facebook and his answer was along the lines of “sometimes people are misinformed, we can’t censor that.” So he basically said that conspiracy theorists and Holocaust deniers were not ill-intentioned.
Yesterday, I wrote a story, which I think you read, about other publications think you give too much voice to those. “You shouldn’t have InfoWars on here.” Let’s talk about InfoWars. Let’s use them as the example. Make the case for keeping them, and make the case for not allowing them to be distributed by you.
There are really two core principles at play here. There’s giving people a voice, so that people can express their opinions. Then, there’s keeping the community safe, which I think is really important. We’re not gonna let people plan violence or attack each other or do bad things. Within this, those principles have real trade-offs and real tug on each other. In this case, we feel like our responsibility is to prevent hoaxes from going viral and being widely distributed.
The approach that we’ve taken to false news is not to say, you can’t say something wrong on the internet. I think that that would be too extreme. Everyone gets things wrong, and if we were taking down people’s accounts when they got a few things wrong, then that would be a hard world for giving people a voice and saying that you care about that. But at the same time, I think that we have a responsibility to, when you look at… if you look at the top hundred things that are going viral or getting distribution on Facebook within any given day, I do think we have a responsibility to make sure that those aren’t hoaxes and blatant misinformation.
That’s the approach that we’ve taken. We look at the things that are getting the most distribution. If people have flag them as potential hoaxes, we send those to fact-checkers who are all well reputable and have followed standard principles for fact checking, and if those fact checkers say that it is provably false, then we will significantly reduce the distribution of that content, and if someone-
So, you move them down the line rather than get rid of them?
Yeah, in News Feed.
Why don’t you wanna just say “get off our platform?”
Look, as abhorrent as some of this content can be, I do think that it gets down to this principle of giving people a voice.
Let me give you an example of where we would take it down. In Myanmar or Sri Lanka, where there’s a history of sectarian violence, similar to the tradition in the U.S. where you can’t go into a movie theater and yell “Fire!” because that creates an imminent harm.
The principles that we have on what we remove from the service are: If it’s going to result in real harm, real physical harm, or if you’re attacking individuals, then that content shouldn’t be on the platform. There’s a lot of categories of that that we can get into, but then there’s broad debate.
Okay. “Sandy Hook didn’t happen” is not a debate. It is false. You can’t just take that down?
I agree that it is false.
I also think that going to someone who is a victim of Sandy Hook and telling them, “Hey, no, you’re a liar” — that is harassment, and we actually will take that down. But overall, let’s take this whole closer to home…
I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened.
I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong, but I think-
In the case of the Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead.
It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent. I just think, as abhorrent as some of those examples are, I think the reality is also that I get things wrong when I speak publicly. I’m sure you do. I’m sure a lot of leaders and public figures we respect do too, and I just don’t think that it is the right thing to say, “We’re going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times.” (Update: Mark has clarified these remarks here: “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.”)
What we will do is we’ll say, “Okay, you have your page, and if you’re not trying to organize harm against someone, or attacking someone, then you can put up that content on your page, even if people might disagree with it or find it offensive.” But that doesn’t mean that we have a responsibility to make it widely distributed in News Feed. I think we, actually, to the contrary-
So you move them down? Versus, in Myanmar, where you remove it?
He said they only take down content which contributes to violence. Infowars HAS contributed to violence and the proliferation of white supremacist ideas. Charlottesville was almost one year ago and that should have been enough to ban them, but that’s somehow different because it happened here in the US I guess. Zuckerberg is trying to appease these dangerous hate groups in the US and that is absolutely wrong. He’s not alone, we’ve seen the press do it too and it’s abhorrent.
Then, as follow up, Zuckerberg emailed this to the interviewer.
I enjoyed our conversation yesterday, but there’s one thing I want to clear up. I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.
Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed. And of course if a post crossed line into advocating for violence or hate against a particular group, it would be removed. These issues are very challenging but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.
I look forward to catching up again soon.
It doesn’t matter how he feels! He’s running a company that has changed the course of history and he’s giving these mealy bullsh-t explanations and vague non-solutions. Facebook still is allowing hate and lies to proliferate on their platform. Trump and Brexit happened, in part, thanks to exploitable holes in Facebook. Zuckerberg knew there was an issue for years. They may have informed the government, but they definitely didn’t tell users until years later when it blew up. He absolutely should have a different role at that company and someone who understands these complex societal issues and has a definitive plan should take over. He’s not going to step down though, he joked about it in the interview. It almost doesn’t matter if Zuckerberg keeps holding on as CEO because Facebook has such a monopoly on our social media, especially for Gen X-ers like me. They even own Instagram. I’ve tried to quit Facebook so many times and I end up missing party invitations and events and inevitably go back. (I rejoined recently after a few months’ hiatus after a friend’s wedding. Most of our social group isn’t on Instagram so I couldn’t see or share photos otherwise. I’m disappointed in myself.)