Zuckerberg’s free-speech commitment faces new challenges

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Last Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave a 45-minute talk at Georgetown University on the issue of free expression on Facebook’s platform. Zuckerberg reiterated the company’s commitment to noncensorship — regardless of the factuality of content shared on the platform — and to only remove content that promotes real harm toward other people.


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The Facebook CEO once again expressed his desire for new forms of oversight to address Facebook’s role in moderating content. Zuckerberg acknowledged that the company should share the burden of its responsibility, saying: “The reality is we make a lot of decisions that affect people’s ability to speak … but we won’t always get it right.”

To that end, he pointed to Facebook’s most recent effort to create an independent Oversight Board that will help the company establish content policies, though it should be noted this group will still be appointed by Facebook executives.

Zuckerberg’s comments on new oversight could reflect his confidence in Facebook’s ability to weather ongoing government investigations. Zuckerberg has stated his desire for new oversight amid multiple government investigations into Facebook’s practices.

Current inquiries stem from the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a group of state attorneys general, and the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. Facebook has also faced additional scrutiny from members of Congress based on accusations of an anticonservative bias existing on the platform.

But Facebook may not receive the kind of new oversight it desires if two recently announced initiatives to curtail its power gain traction.

  • Last week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced a new data privacy bill that would force tech platforms to adhere to specific standards and face steep penalties if they fail to meet those standards. Wyden’s “Mind Your Own Business” Act would grant the FTC the ability to establish minimum privacy standards and, for offenders, impose fines of up to 4% of the company’s annual revenue, a level similar to the fines possible under GDPR. In 2018, Facebook revenue was $55.8 billion, meaning a potential fine would total about $2.2 billion. The bill would also make it a crime for senior executives of tech companies to knowingly lie to the FTC. “Mark Zuckerberg won’t take American privacy seriously unless he feels personal consequences,” said Wyden in a public statement.
  • Also on Thursday, Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes announced he and the Economic Security Project will launch a $10 million “anti-monopoly fund.” The group, which Hughes co-chairs, hopes to regulate and dismantle what they consider “monopolistic” companies. The Economic Security Project group will invest in policy advocates, grassroots movements, and academic research centered on creating and implementing new rules to rein in major companies. And given Hughes’ vocal condemnation of Facebook in the past as a tech monopoly, it’s easy to guess who the group may target first.

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