The Intercept: ‘Sheryl Sandberg Misled Congress About Facebook’s Conscience’

The Latest: Senator scolds Google for skipping hearing

An article from the Intercept states that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s claims that Facebook only operates within countries that can uphold Facebook’s values are false.

The Intercept claims in an article titled “Sheryl Sandberg Misled Congress About Facebook’s Conscience” that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was either lying or misleading Congress during her hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week. The Facebook COO claimed that Facebook doesn’t operate within countries in which the company cannot uphold their own values, a claim which the Intercept finds issue with. Sandberg stated during the hearing: “We would only operate in a country where we could do so in keeping with our values.” The Intercept states that this was either: “a lie told under oath, or Facebook has some pretty lousy values.”
The article states:

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., questioned Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey about the fact that they are both ostensibly American companies, but also firms with users around the world — including in countries with legal systems and values that differ drastically from the United States. Rubio cited various governments that crack down on, say, pro-democracy activism and that criminalize such speech. How can a company like Facebook claim that it’s committed to free expression as a global value while maintaining its adherence to rule of law on a local level? When it comes to democratic values, Rubio asked, “Do you support them only in the United States or are these principles that you feel obligated to support around the world?”

The Intercept notes that Sandberg’s claims are provably false using information provided by Facebook itself, such as the company’s latest public “transparency report” which notes that Facebook helps to block free expression in countries such as the United Arab Emirates which has been condemned by the Human Rights Watch for detaining and sometimes disappearing individuals who criticize authorities:

According to its most recent update on its compliance with UAE takedown requests — when a government or company requests that the social media giant remove content from its site — Facebook “restricted access to items in the UAE, all reported by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, a federal UAE government entity responsible for [information technology] sector in the UAE. The content was reported for hate speech and was attacking members of the royal family, which is against local laws.” It’s hard to imagine even Facebook’s legendary public relations team could construe censoring criticism of “the royal family” as anything resembling a democratic value. A similar entry from the report, on Pakistan, notes that Facebook “restricted access to items that were alleged to violate local laws prohibiting blasphemy and condemnation of the country’s independence.” (Facebook declined to comment on the record for this story.)

The Intercept article notes that some lawmakers suggest that Facebook update their terms of service to read more like a constitution that applies worldwide regardless of jurisdiction, but this would require Facebook to potentially lose access to certain lucrative markets:

Rather than pointing to local laws against, say, blasphemy, Shahbaz suggested companies like Facebook “should be defending democratic values and abiding by its own terms of service” instead of local frameworks that might stifle political speech. One tack would be for Facebook to hold up its corporate terms of service as something “more like a constitution, [saying] these are the values we believe in around the world,” regardless of jurisdiction.

Such a stance would also require the spine to say no to a government whose citizens are potentially lucrative data fodder. Cynthia Wong, a senior internet researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that although it’s heartening that the social media firm has made public human rights commitments, such as joining the Global Network Initiative, “Facebook should explain what it means by democratic values if it complies with laws that don’t comply with those values.” Wong added that with Facebook’s controversial “real names” policy, which forbids the use of pseudonyms on the network, the social media company “creates a lot of danger” for democratic activists “who don’t want to use their real name because they’re facing reprisal.”

Read the full article here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or email him at


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