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What Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Said in His Defense of ‘Free Expression’

Brady Dale and Nikhilesh De

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended free expression in a speech at Georgetown University on Thursday.

“[The internet] allows people to share things that wouldn’t have been possible to share before,” he said. However, “we’re seeing people across the spectrum try to define more speech as dangerous because it may lead to political outcomes that they see as unacceptable.”

Freedom of expression and censorship-resistance may be sacrosanct for cryptocurrency advocates. But Zuckerberg did not link his free-speech concerns to his company’s Libra cryptocurrency project, nor did he stake out an entirely radical position.

Related: Libra Shows Central Banks’ Failure on Cross-Border Payments: Riksbank

He acknowledged that certain restrictions on speech have always been a part of the U.S. political climate, but he called for a scenario in which those restrictions were as few as possible – and the decisions weren’t left in the hands of private companies:

“I believe in giving people a voice because, at the end of the day, I believe in people.”

Nevertheless, Zuckerberg acknowledged that, for now, his company has too much power in deciding acceptable norms. “We make a lot of decisions that affect people’s ability to speak,” he admitted, adding:

“Frankly, I don’t think we should be making so many decisions about people’s speech on our own either.”

Related: France’s Le Maire Attacks Facebook’s ‘Political’ Ambitions With Libra

Those curious about how the Facebook-initiated Libra might dovetail with his comments were disappointed Thursday. Zuckerberg did not address his company’s vision for cryptocurrency. Zuckerberg also did not address the themes of encryption and privacy that he spoke about earlier this year at the company’s annual F8 developer conference.

You can watch the full speech here:

Digital IDs

Notably, the man who coded the initial version of Facebook himself suggested that technological solutions can and do already protect against the worst abuses on the platform.

In particular, he said Facebook has found that robust identity verification systems can undermine much of the virality of dangerous speech and disinformation, saying:

“The solution here is to verify the identities of anyone who’s getting a wide amount of distribution and to get a lot better at identifying and taking down fake accounts. We now require you to provide a government ID and prove your location if you want to run political ads.”

Zuckerberg noted that by using machine learning and other strategies, Facebook is able to disable millions of fake accounts opened on the platform each year, in part by spotting “clusters” of these fake users.

“You can still say controversial things if you want, but you have to stand behind them with your real identity,” he said.

Zuckerberg touted the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects the freedom of speech, and which he said stands in stark contrast with the views of other nations, especially China’s.

“This question is which nation’s values are going to determine what speech is allowed for decades to come,” Zuckerberg said, concluding:

“While we may disagree on where to draw the lines on specific issues, we at least can disagree. That’s what free expression is.”

Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Georgetown University, Oct. 17, 2019, screenshot via Facebook Live

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