In an interview with Wired magazine, Mark Zuckerberg revealed Facebook’s political agenda — he wants to curb free speech and free expression on the platform in exchange for “safety.”
From the Wired interview:
I think at the heart of a lot of these issues we face are tradeoffs between real values that people care about. You know, when you think about issues like fake news or hate speech, right, it’s a tradeoff between free speech and free expression and safety and having an informed community. These are all the challenging situations that I think we are working to try to navigate as best we can. (Emphasis added)
Zuckerberg’s “trade-off” confirms Facebook’s long-suspected agenda: to take the platform away from first amendment principles, towards a European understanding of speech, in which elites determine what ordinary people can and cannot say, based on vague, flexible terms like “hate speech” and “fake news.”
Similarly to YouTube’s lurch towards censoriousness, this is a massive bait-and-switch. Silicon Valley promised users open platforms where they would be able to air their views on an equal playing field, without interference from corporate media, political elites, and gatekeepers.
Now Zuckerberg wants to install himself as the ultimate gatekeeper, presiding over the speech and expression of the platform’s 2 billion users. In order to ensure “safety” and an “informed community,” he is going to decide what information is allowed to spread on the platform, and what information is going to be suppressed.
We are already seeing the results of this approach. Facebook’s recent changes to users’ newsfeeds have caused engagement on conservative media and on President Trump’s page to plummet, while left-wing and corporate media has received a boost.
By taking on an editorial role, Facebook may be violating the justification for Communication Decency Act’s safe harbor provision, which grants online platforms legal immunity from content posted by their users.
Facebook’s decision to take a top-down, editorial view on the information shared on its platform was recently confirmed by the company’s head of news partnership’s Campbell Brown. Speaking at Recode’s annual conference, Brown said:
This is not us stepping back from news. This is us changing our relationship with publishers and emphasizing something that Facebook has never done before: It’s having a point of view, and it’s leaning into quality news. … We are, for the first time in the history of Facebook, taking a step to try to to define what ‘quality news’ looks like and give that a boost. (Emphasis added)
At a Senate hearing in January, Sen. Ted Cruz called out representatives from Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter over censorship of conservatives. Cruz told the representatives that if their platforms did not remain politically neutral, they could lose legal immunity for user content under the provisions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Without this protection, social media companies would be legally liable for all content posted on their platforms – an existential threat to their business model.