Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg blasted China for its censorship in a free speech-focused speech Thursday in which he also defended the company's policy to allow false information in political ads.
“This question of which nation’s values are going to determine what speech is allowed for decades to come really puts into perspective our debates about the content issues of the day. Because while we may disagree on exactly where to draw the line on specific issues — we at least can disagree,” Zuckerberg said.
At an event at Georgetown University, Zuckerberg highlighted the rise of Chinese tech companies and warned China is “exporting their vision of the internet to other countries.”
“While our services like WhatsApp are used by protestors and activists everywhere due to strong encryption and privacy protections, on TikTok — the Chinese app growing quickly around the world — mentions of these same protests are censored, even here in the U.S. Is that the internet we want?” he said.
The CEO said he wanted to offer Facebook in China, but could never come to an agreement on what it would take to operate inside the country.
“I wanted our services in China because I believe in connecting the whole world and I thought maybe we could help in creating a more open society,” said Zuckerberg. “They never let us in. Now we have more freedom to speak out and stand up for the values that we believe in and fight for free expression around the world.”
In a statement to Yahoo Finance, TikTok denied Zuckerberg’s claims.
“Our content and moderation policies are led by our US-based team and are not influenced by any foreign government. The Chinese government does not request that TikTok censor content, and would not have jurisdiction regardless, as TikTok does not operate there. To be clear: We do not remove videos based on the presence of Hong Kong protest content,” said a TikTok spokesperson.
Zuckerberg isn’t the only person to raise concerns about TikTok. Sen. Marco Rubio has asked the U.S. government to investigate the company over censorship fears. In a recent tweet, he also warned parents the app is “collecting personal data on your teens for #China & they are stealing money through copyright theft.”
In a Q&A session after his prepared remarks, a moderator asked Zuckerberg about what conditions he would be willing to accept in order to do business in China. Zuckerberg said he has “struggled” with that question, but worries about several issues including censorship and data localization in China and other countries.
“I would be very worried about localizing people’s data in a country that doesn’t have very strong respect for rule of law,” said Zuckerberg. “I don’t want to be in a situation where we put people’s data at that kind of risk.”
Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.