It wasn't long after Mark Zuckerberg took the stage at Aspen Ideas Festival Wednesday that he was hacked by the crowd. Facebook's CEO spoke to Cass Sunstein, professor of Harvard Law School, who also served as a Facebook advisor and discusses the complexity of the fight against election interference. One problem that Zuckerberg proclaimed is that Facebook does not have a mechanism to prevent foreign governments from operating influential operations. It can take down posts; It can delete false accounts but it cannot cut the internet connections to Russia's Internet Research Agency. "As a private company, we do not have the tools to stop the Russian government," he explained. "Our government is the one who has the tools to seek pressure on Russia, not us." When he spoke, an older voice shouted from his back, "Not true!"
The moment was symbolic of Zuckerberg and the trust he and his company have lost in recent years. Aspen Ideas Festival is a quiet, thoughtful place. Heckling is rare. But Facebook has drawn anger and mockery everywhere this year, even at thought-provoking conferences in the mountains. Still, Zuckerberg soldier on and made his point, which happens to be pretty much true.
Not long after, Facebook's leader met his second lynx. Sunstein prodded him on Facebook's decision not to remove a maliciously edited video by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who seemed full, who had gone viral in May. "Why not make politics, tomorrow, be that if affordable observers could not know that it is false, then is it taken down?" Asked Sunstein. The audience reacted with enthusiastic applause that seemed to scare the professor. "It's the first time I've ever been applauded," he said, smiling.
Zuckerberg began his answer by noting that this is a topic of intense discussion with the company. Deepfakes can be a different category than the kind of fake news that Facebook has long experience with. Nevertheless, Facebook begins to think of its answer with the principle it uses when replying to false statements: Limit distribution, but do not completely remove them. You can limit the range without suffocating speech.
His simplest move would have been to put the answer there. Instead, Zuckerberg decided to defend the company's decision and link it to broader principles. "We exist in a society where people value and value free expression, and the ability to say things, including satire," he said. He doubled and said he didn't think anyone would want "a private company to prevent you from saying something that is actually wrong." He added, "It just feels like it's too far and away from the tradition of free expression and being able to say what your experience is through satire and other means."
At the end of the exchange, Zuckerberg had done something become increasingly rare in the technology industry in recent years: defending free speech with a hammer, not a shrug. Many of the most difficult decisions in technology have come down in recent years to switch between security and speech. After decades of favoritism, most leaders have recently chosen security. Alex Jones has been banned. Artificial intelligence systems are set up to filter out speech that is cruel. Anonymity has been made more difficult. Zuckerberg, though, seemed to be capable, and when he was finished, the audience gave a hearty applause.
The rest of the interview covered the known ground. Zuckerberg noted that there are deep discrepancies between data portability and privacy. "Part of the problem today is that we offer people so many choices over so many different things, and so many controls, that ultimately it doesn't become available, and much of the time, if you want to design a single product that people understand , you will only make choices for people who reflect what you think their best interests are. "That's true! But it also sounded a bit dark.
Predictably, he claimed that antitrust would not be a good solution to the misery that people owe Facebook. Having several small social media companies, he said, would not make it easier to protect privacy or defend choices. Moreover, he added that the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp should not be omitted, because Facebook had made these services more innovative, not less. "Yes, some mergers can be bad for innovation. These were not." Sunstein, currently pressured, was unable to count on. Fortunately, of course, this topic will come up again at the festival. And also before Congress and the Federal Trade Commission.
The audience had ushered in the previous speaker-rapper Common-out with a standing ovation. When Zuckerberg's speech ended, everyone seemed enthusiastic, if it was a little less so. Yet he was only haunted once.
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