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Facebook CEO defends refusal to take down some content

FB - control or freedom?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday defended the social media platform's refusal to take down content it considers newsworthy "even if it goes against our standards." But while he promoted free expression, limitations were placed on coverage of his remarks at Georgetown University.

Reporters were not allowed to ask questions — only students were given that chance, filtered by a moderator. Facebook and Georgetown barred news organizations from filming. Instead organizers provided a livestream on Georgetown's social media site and made available video shot by Facebook.

"It's quite ironic," said Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute and a former state prosecutor. More generally, she said of Facebook, "The key to free expression is to not have one company control the flow of speech to more than 2 billion people, using algorithms that amplify disinformation in order to maximize profits."

Facebook, Google, Twitter and other companies are trying to oversee internet content while also avoiding infringing on First Amendment rights. The pendulum has swung recently toward restricting hateful speech that could spawn violence. The shift follows mass shootings in which the suspects have posted racist screeds online or otherwise expressed hateful views or streamed images of attacks.

Facebook also has come under criticism for not doing enough to filter out phoney political ads.

"Right now, we're doing a very good job at getting everyone mad at us," Zuckerberg told the packed hall at Georgetown.

He said serious threats to expression are coming from places such as China, where social media platforms used by protesters are censored, and from court decisions restricting the location of internet users' data in certain countries.

"I'm here today because I believe that we must continue to stand for free expression," he said. People of varied political beliefs are trying to define expansive speech as dangerous because it could bring results they don't accept, Zuckerberg said. "I personally believe this is more dangerous to democracy in the long term than almost any speech."

Taking note of mounting criticism of the market dominance of Facebook and other tech giants, Zuckerberg acknowledged the companies' centralized power but said it's also "decentralized by putting it directly into people's hands. ... Giving people a voice and broader inclusion go hand in hand."

John Stanton, a former fellow at Georgetown who heads a group called the "Save Journalism Project," called the CEO's appearance "a joke."

Zuckerberg "is the antithesis of free expression," Stanton said in a statement. "He's thrown free speech, public education and democracy to the wayside in his thirst for power and profit."

The social media giant, with nearly 2.5 billion users around the globe, is under heavy scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators following a series of data privacy scandals, including lapses in opening the personal data of millions of users to Trump's 2016 campaign.



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