Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg was the keynote speaker at an event called the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Utah. I don’t want to overstate what he said but what I heard was a defiant rejection of demands from the woke left that he censor an ever-expanding list of content.
The appearance didn’t start off smoothly. Zuckerberg came on stage and immediately made a mistake, telling he crowd he was in the midst of building a big data center in “Eagle Rock.” The director of the Summit immediately corrected him saying the new data center was being built in “Eagle Mountain.” Oops! To his credit, Zuckerberg made fun of himself saying, “Awesome! We’re off to a great start.”
Zuckerberg used the mistake to pivot to an answer about the new direction he wants Facebook to take. “Let’s be real here, I’m not like—communicating is not my best thing. Right? I came out here, I’m planning for this, I’m excited about it and I messed up the name of our data center within 30 seconds.” He went on to say that for a long time, Facebook had done something similar. For many years Facebook tried to be as vague as possible with an overall goal of not offending anyone too much. But Zuckerberg said that over time he’s realized there are some things that he believes in and wants the company to reflect. One of those is the importance of free expression.
“In Georgetown last year I gave this speech around our principles around free expression,” Zuckerberg said. He continued, “You know that’s just one of the areas that I really feel like is under attack right now. Increasingly we’re getting called to censor a lot of different kinds of content that makes me really uncomfortable. It kind of feels like the list of things that you’re not allowed to say socially keeps on growing. And I’m not really okay with that.”
Zuckerberg said there were things “terrorism, child exploitation, incitement to violence” that the company was committed to keeping off the platform. “So we’re focusing a lot on that but at some point I just felt like, alright, we’ve got to stand up and say ‘no, we’re going to stand for free expression’ and yeah we’re going to take down the content that’s really harmful but the line needs to be held at some point.
“I think it’s unfortunate that this is such a controversial thing. You know, when I got started in 2004, it wasn’t. You know, it wasn’t a thing that people were pushing back on that much.”
He’s absolutely correct that the pushback on free expression, mostly from the left, has become far more aggressive over the past five years or so with the rise of the social justice warriors and woke activists who see silencing their opponents online and in the real world as a goal.
Recently, a lot of that pressure has been spilling over onto Facebook. Zuckerberg himself has recently become the focus of leading figures on the left. Hillary Clinton and George Soros both suggested this month that Zuckerberg intends to hand the 2020 election to Trump. Soros wrote an opinion piece for the NY Times Friday titled “Mark Zuckerberg Should Not Be in Control of Facebook.”
I believe that Mr. Trump and Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, realize that their interests are aligned — the president’s in winning elections, Mr. Zuckerberg’s in making money…
The responsible approach is self-evident. Facebook is a publisher not just a neutral moderator or “platform.” It should be held accountable for the content that appears on its site…
I repeat and reaffirm my accusation against Facebook under the leadership of Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg. They follow only one guiding principle: maximize profits irrespective of the consequences. One way or another, they should not be left in control of Facebook.
No doubt Soros (and Hillary) would prefer an outspoken progressive were in control of the site. Facebook responded to Soros’ comments yesterday:
“While we respect Mr. Soros’ right to voice his opinion, he’s wrong,” a Facebook spokesperson told Fox News via email. “The notion that we are aligned with any one political figure or party runs counter to our values and the facts. We continue making unprecedented investments to keep our platform safe, fight foreign interference in elections around the world, and combat misinformation.”
So much of the news and information that is shared in an election year happens on Facebook these days that it really isn’t very surprising both parties want more control of what happens there. But by all accounts the GOP is far ahead technologically and in terms of fundraising. That leaves Democrats in the position of making personal accusations and trying to use those to leverage some kind of control or concessions. I think that’s what we’re seeing from Soros and Clinton.
What Zuckerberg said today sounds a lot like a response to the progressive bullies. He’s letting them know he’s not going to play their game. “This is the new approach, and I think it’s going to piss off a lot of people,” he said Friday, without specifying anyone in particular who would be pissed off. He added, “But frankly, the old approach was pissing off a lot of people too, so let’s try something different.”
I hope Zuckerberg can stick to his guns but I’m not sure he’s fully aware how ugly the left can get once top voices like Soros and Clinton indicate someone is an enemy and deserves to be destroyed. Let’s just say I hope Zuckerberg has a lot of personal security because I think he’s going to need it.