Facebook and Free Expression

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent speech at Georgetown University detailed his views on freedom of speech and its manifestation on Facebook. He entitled his mega-app as the “champion of free expression” and praised the diverse spectrum of its users, especially in the political sphere. Voicing that “no one wants tech companies to be the arbiter of truth,” Zuckerberg clearly expressed that he holds no intention of banning politically biased advertisements on Facebook (CNBC). However, this remark, as well as the entire address itself, is facing a severe backlash from netizens. 

Zuckerberg offered a staunch defense for Facebook against allegations and criticisms that it has been allowing an excessive amount of censorship and bias into the platform. He spoke for the company’s decision to allow politically biased ads and brought up examples such as Martin Luther King Jr., Black Lives Matter, and Frederick Douglass to support his perspective on the important role that free expression plays in politics. “Given the sensitivity around political ads, I’ve considered whether we should stop allowing them altogether,” Zuckerberg said, “but political ads are an important part of voice— especially for local candidates, up-and-coming challengers and advocacy groups that may not get much media attention otherwise. Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media covers.”

While Zuckerberg had spent the past two years apologizing to a chorus of critics for misinformation, privacy violations, and more, in this speech, the Facebook Inc. chief executive adopted the counter position—instead, shocking those on the receiving en. According to the Guardian, he claimed that users would be fed only with the majority’s views if his company were to control the strongly opinionated content on the app. However, the public immediately pointed out that should Zuckerberg allow what he deems manifestations of “free expression” on Facebook— pornography, hate speech, and false news— this would mean that he supports immoral information and thus contradicts his previous statments. Furthermore, his references to prominent civil rights figures were condemned as well. Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, criticized Zuckerberg’s references to Black Lives Matter as “co-opting civil rights history to justify Facebook policies that undermine our democracy.” 

In today’s digital age, nearly 2.5 billion users cite Facebook as their primary source of news or information. Facebook plays a uniquely impactful role as a publisher, and many believe that delivering news and information at such a large scale demands absolute responsibility to do so truthfully. However, Zuckerberg believes that his creation will “transcend today’s chaos and that his decision will today will be the right move in the long term” (CNBC). With the appearance of presidential ads in the 2020 American elections, Facebook’s ideals regarding freedom of speech is a subject of intense debate.

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