Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended his company’s policy to allow politicians to lie in political ads at an event in Washington on Thursday.
“While I certainly worry about the erosion of truth, I don’t think most people want to live in a world where you can only post things that tech companies judge to be 100% true,” said Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg made the comments at an event about “free expression” at Georgetown University. The event is part of Georgetown’s “Democracy in a Digital Age” series.
Facebook’s (FB) new policy for political ads has sparked outrage among the Democratic party. The company has publicly battled with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), after she posted an ad falsely claiming Zuckerberg endorsed President Donald Trump, in order to prove her point.
Banning political ads
Warren argues Facebook has the power to influence elections and affect national debate and by allowing lies in political ads, Facebook is promoting the spread of misinformation and choosing profit over protecting democracy.
“We’re seeing people across the spectrum try to define more speech as dangerous because it may lead to political outcomes they see as unacceptable. Some hold the view that since the stakes are now so high, they can no longer trust their fellow citizens with the power to communicate and decide what to believe for themselves,” said Zuckerberg. “I personally believe that this is more dangerous for democracy over the long term than almost any speech.”
Zuckerberg told the students he has considered banning all political ads on the social media platform because the controversy isn’t worth it from a financial perspective. But he argued banning political ads would favor incumbents and hurts up-and-coming challengers who might not get significant mainstream media coverage. He made the case that if he wanted to ban political ads, it would still be difficult to figure out how to do that because there are more ads about issues than specific elections.
“Do we ban ads about health care or immigration or women’s empowerment? And if you’re not going to ban those, does it really make sense to give everyone a voice in the political debates except for the candidates themselves?,” said Zuckerberg. “I believe when it’s not absolutely clear what to do, we should err on the side of greater expression.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign has asked Facebook to remove a political ad it says contains false information about Biden. In a statement a Biden spokesperson rejected Zuckerberg’s explanation for the policy.
“Facebook has chosen to sell Americans’ personal data to politicians looking to target them with disproven lies and conspiracy theories, crowding out the voices of working Americans,” said Bill Russo, Deputy Communications Director, Biden for President. “Zuckerberg attempted to use the Constitution as a shield for his company’s bottom line, and his choice to cloak Facebook’s policy in a feigned concern for free expression demonstrates how unprepared his company is for this unique moment in our history and how little it has learned over the past few years.”
Students — some who waited in line for six hours to attend the event— submitted written questions to Georgetown organizers before coming into the auditorium. After his prepared remarks, a moderator asked Zuckerberg a few of the student questions. Students were not allowed to ask questions live and reporters were kept from asking Zuckerberg questions.
John Scieff, a sophomore at Georgetown, told Yahoo Finance he’s not a Zuckerberg fan and doesn’t really use Facebook, but wanted to be able to tell his children he saw “such a notable villain” in person.
“Facebook has just become this like massive media platform — we’ve seen it be used in such horrible ways, to skew the 2016 election and Brexit,” Scieff said.
Megan Wee, also a sophomore, said while she loves Facebook and uses it constantly (even though it’s “super-outdated”), she wanted to be able to catch a glimpse of the man who she said “started the dystopian society we’re going to live in.”
“It’s Mark Zuckerberg’s world and we’re all just living in it,” she said.
“We’re doing a very good job of making everyone angry,” said Zuckerberg when asked about Facebook’s perceived biases.
The CEO is scheduled to testify about Libra before the House Financial Services Committee next week. On Wednesday he met with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Rep. Patrick McHenry — the committee’s top lawmakers.
Need for regulation
On Thursday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced a data privacy bill, which would include “steep fines” and even jail time for executives who lie to the Federal Trade Commission.
“I don’t think anything will change unless there are personal consequences when someone like Mark Zuckerberg lies and lies repeatedly to the public with respect to their privacy policies,” said Wyden in an interview with Yahoo Finance.
At the Georgetown event, Zuckerberg called for more internet regulation.
“We’re clearly in a moment where there are a lot of real issues, a lot of concerns about the tech companies,” said Zuckerberg. “Clearer rules about what we need to do would be helpful instead of having all the decisions rest on our shoulders.
Zuckerberg add a federal privacy bill in the United States is “well overdue.”
“That doesn’t seem to be happening. There’s talk about regulation, but we’re not moving particularly quickly towards getting those things in place,” he said.
Zuckerberg argued if the government and platforms addressed specific issues — like data privacy, data portability, content and elections — critics would be less likely to try and break up big tech.
“If that at happens, I don’t think people will end up concluding that breaking up the companies is the right thing to do,” said Zuckerberg.
Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.