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In a last-minute addition to the annual Aspen Ideas Festival hosted by the Aspen Institute, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to the stage to defend his company’s decision to leave a controversial altered video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the site. He also defended his calls for the government to regulate social media.
He also revealed, possibly for the first time, that during Ireland’s recent referendum on abortion he consulted with Ireland’s government (which supported legalizing abortion) about whether Facebook should block pro-life ads originating outside the tiny island nation.
“If it’s spam, we take it down,” Zuckerberg told moderator Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor and Obama alum. But he pushed back on the notion that a selectively edited video such as the Pelosi video, which slowed down the speech of the California Democrat to make her appear intoxicated, ought to be removed completely.
Chief Political Correspondent Byron York on the expanded Washington Examiner magazine
“We work with an independent fact checker,” Zuckerberg reminded Sunstein, “to prevent it from getting any amount of significant distribution.” Instead of deleting the video and other pieces of disinformation wholesale, Facebook flags dishonest or misleading content as such and its algorithm halts its distribution. When Sunstein suggested Facebook simply institute a policy of taking down deepfakes and dishonest content, the audience at the Colorado festival applauded for the first time.
Facebook is “currently evaluating” their policy on deepfakes, Zuckerberg said, conceding that deepfakes differ from other misinformation.
“I just think you need to be very careful in what you’re defining as disinformation,” the billionaire noted, explaining that whether a satire or supercut is dishonest is often not a straightforward evaluation. Zuckerberg added that banning one person from telling their friend on the site something fake would be an overstep as a matter of principle.
“We exist in a society were we value and cherish free expression,” he said.
Zuckerberg also doubled-down on his calls for Congress to regulate social media companies, citing pro-life activists’ posts during the Irish abortion referendum. The Harvard dropout revealed that prior to Facebook’s decision to ban pro-life Americans from advertising about the referendum, he consulted with the Irish government, which ultimately never gave Facebook an answer as to whether it wanted the tech giant to delete the American ads.
Zuckerberg justified one aspect of his call for regulation with his reluctance to make content moderation decisions on behalf of other governments.
“There’s this Honest Ads Act that I think is a good floor for what should be passed,” he said, reversing the company’s previous lobbying against the bipartisan act that would expand the jurisdiction of the Federal Election Campaign Act.
“Getting election integrity right is probably the highest priority of these issues,” he said. Of foreign interference, he added, “It’s an arms race. Every election we see new tactics, but through a big investment in this, we can stay ahead.”
That investment includes 30,000 content moderators responsible for upward of 100 billion posts per day. The company spends more now on the issue than Facebook’s entire IPO from less than a decade ago. It also introduced an “Ad Library” following the Ireland issue.
“Now anyone who runs political ads, those ads are going to go in an archive that will be visible for seven years,” Zuckerberg said of the library that will document the content, source, and payment of political ads.
“One of the mistakes that I worry about after 2016 when the government didn’t take any kind of counter-action, the signal that was sent to the world was, ‘We’re open for business,'” he lamented of election interference. “We’ve seen increased activity from Iran and other countries.”
Although Zuckerberg continually called for regulation of social media across the industry, he pushed back on calls from the likes of presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren to break up big tech. Though it may “feel nice” to advocate disbanding Facebook, Zuckerberg said, he noted that the issues plaguing Facebook are still rampant on plenty of other social media companies, including smaller ones. Plus, he added, given the scope of Facebook’s resources to tackle issues such as election security, they can help spread better tools to their acquisitions such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
“If it were always the case that mergers were bad for innovation, then we wouldn’t allow any mergers,” Zuckerberg stated of those acquisitions. “Yes, some mergers can be bad for innovation. these weren’t.”