Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg reiterated his call for governments to step in with new regulations governing internet platforms, saying in an ABC News interview that his company needs laws regulating political speech.
“We need new rules,” Zuckerberg said. He was interviewed by ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. The interview, recorded Wednesday, aired on “Good Morning America” Thursday morning.
“The current laws around what is political advertising don’t consider discussion issues to be political,” Zuckerberg said, referring to attempts by Russia and others to disrupt elections with misinformation campaigns on social media. “It’s not clear to me that we want a private company to be making that kind of a fundamental decision about what is political speech and how should that be regulated. That seems like something there should be a more democratic process around.”
Zuckerberg’s comments are a continuation of the position he outlined in a March 30 op-ed in the Washington Post calling on governments to enact laws addressing how internet companies treat harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability. Critics derided Zuckerberg’s suggestions as self-serving, saying such regulations would give Facebook legal cover for the problems on its platform.
Asked by Stephanopoulos how he would respond to critics who argue that policing its own platform is Facebook’s responsibility, Zuckerberg said, “I think setting the rules around political advertising is not the company’s job.”
For the 2020 elections, Facebook is better equipped to combat potential election interference from Russia and other countries, according to Zuckerberg. “We learned a lot since 2016,” he said, referring to the revelation that Russia used Facebook to spread propaganda designed to divide U.S. voters and swing the presidential election.
Zuckerberg also addressed the mass shooting in New Zealand last month, during which one of the terrorists live-streamed the attack on Facebook Live in a 17-minute video.
The live video itself was seen by about 200 Facebook users, according to Zuckerberg, although the video was also uploaded and viewed by several thousand more people. “We need to build out systems to be able to identify terrorist events more quickly, as it’s happening,” he said. “One of the things this flagged for me overall was the extent to which bad actors are going to try to get around our systems.”
The ABC News interview is the latest plank in Zuckerberg’s PR strategy aimed at rehabilitating Facebook’s tarnished image after a series of damaging disclosures and headlines over the past year about the social giant — which have led to calls for more government regulation of Facebook and even Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to dismantle the company (for example, by forcing Facebook to separate from WhatsApp and Instagram) and other tech giants like Google and Amazon.
“I think in a lot of ways, over the last few years, we have changed significantly how we’ve run the company,” Zuckerberg told Stephanopoulos.
The scandals besetting Facebook have included revelations about questionable business practices, a string of user-data privacy breaches, and ongoing issues about the platform’s role in the spread of hate content and misinformation including its potential for interference in elections.
In Facebook’s latest privacy gaffe, researchers at a security firm said Wednesday that they discovered about 540 million Facebook user records — including names, passwords and comments — publicly exposed on Amazon cloud servers. Facebook said it worked with Amazon to remove the data after being alerted about the breach; Zuckerberg told Stephanopoulos the company was “still looking into” the incident. And the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last week sued Facebook, alleging it violated the Fair Housing Act by letting advertisers buy targeted housing ads based on race, gender and other criteria.
Last month, Zuckerberg outlined a new privacy vision for Facebook’s portfolio of apps, pledging that the company will make changes to keep users’ messages private and introduce mechanisms to let shared content expire. With the new focus, chief product officer Chris Cox exited the company after 14 years at Facebook.
Zuckerberg admitted in the ABC News interview that he was “more surprised than I should have been” about the criticism Facebook has taken over the last few years.
“I’m a very idealistic person. I built this because I believe that giving everyone a voice is going to be a positive thing,” Zuckerberg said. “But now I think have a little more awareness that if you’re serving 2 billion people, you’re going to see a lot of amazing things that people are capable of — but you’re also going to see people try to abuse those systems.”
ABC News touted Zuckerberg’s appearance as his first network TV interview since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in March 2018, in which the political-consulting firm illicitly obtained info on millions of Facebook users that it used to place targeted ads during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. However, Zuckerberg has sat for several other interviews over that time, including two last year with CNN’s Laurie Segall.