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Facebook taking action against Trump should have happened ‘a long time ago’: Former Facebook Privacy and Public Policy Advisor

Facebook and Twitter have temporarily banned President Trump from both social media platforms following his video address. Harvard Kennedy School Digital Platforms & Democracy Project Co-Director and Former Facebook Privacy and Public Policy Advisor Dipayan Ghosh joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, there's growing outrage aimed at social media platforms for their perceived role in inciting the riots that played out in Washington yesterday. A number of movements on that front. Facebook today coming out and saying that they will be extending that ban for the president on the platform for two more weeks. Mark Zuckerberg making that statement on his Facebook page.

Twitter, meanwhile, yesterday moving forward and temporarily banning the president from that platform pending further action. Let's bring in Dipayan Ghosh. He is a former economic advisor under President Obama, former Facebook privacy and public policy advisor, and now co-director at Harvard Kennedy School's Digital Platforms and Democracy Project.

Dipayan, it is interesting because you have been sort of foreshadowing this for a while, talking about the proliferation of disinformation, as well as fake news out there. How-- you know, to what extent do social media platforms or should social media platforms be held responsible for what happened yesterday?

DIPAYAN GHOSH: Well, I think they should be held responsible. I think they are, in large part, culpable for all the harm, all the hate, all the death that we saw yesterday. What we know is that social media is all designed on a set of algorithms that are designed to maximize profit for companies like Facebook. They take the content that we contribute, which is fair.

But then what they do is they profile us behaviorally. And they segment us up into various audiences. And then, they target ads at us and content at us in an optimal way, in a way that maximizes profits for them. And there's nothing else to it. It's a simple machine learning algorithm at this point. And it's gone out of control.

To really get back and get it back under control, we need to put not the commercial interests of companies like Facebook as the objective for these algorithms, but rather, the public interest, rather what we want to see, what is socially acceptable political speech and content on these kinds of platforms.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, and what's amazing to me is you just think about the 180 that's being posted here by Mark Zuckerberg, considering his speech in Georgetown just last year, was talking about defending at all costs kind of free speech on the platform and his stance in terms of what the president's been able to post on Facebook.

How big of a 180 is this to ban the president's account for the next two weeks at least? And what does it signal in terms of maybe an ultimate concession here on the part of Facebook to say, look, all right, maybe we were wrong. This is a problem.

DIPAYAN GHOSH: You've hit the nail on the head. And he said two weeks at least and even used the word "indefinitely," in terms of Mark Zuckerberg's suspension of Donald Trump's Facebook account. It is a complete 180.

You know, in late 2019, almost a little over a year ago, we saw Zuck get up on stage at Georgetown in front of the world, who was expecting-- we were all expecting him to say that, you know what? I'm going to stamp my foot down and protect our elections in this country and around the world from mis and disinformation and hateful conduct and conspiracies and this sort of violence.

And instead, he said the complete opposite on stage. He said that effectively, even if a politician spreads political lies on his platforms, he's not going to do anything about it, even if those political lies are intentionally designed to spread misinformation, spread hate, incite violence, and so on.

He's taken a complete 180 now in taking Donald Trump's account offline. I would suggest that this kind of action should have come a long time ago and that the company should have rejiggered its algorithms to make sure that our elections, make sure that our democracy is safe. Instead, there's a fire that's burning at the feet of our democracy, as we could see yesterday.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, I mean, it's important to note while Facebook has acted on President Trump's account and his ability to post on the platform, the reality is there were a number of groups on the platform that were discussing the very thing that happened yesterday, some going as far as to show travel routes to DC, pointing how this would all play out.

But Facebook, of course, not the only platform. We were talking about Twitter earlier. You've got TikTok. You've got these other sort of fringe, some would say, platforms like those that started by users who were kicked off of Reddit. You've got Parlor. When you look at the social media landscape right now, are there enough resources and tools in place for the government to police this discussion? Or does there need to be a larger discussion, whether that is the repeal of Section 230 or something else?

DIPAYAN GHOSH: Well, you know, I think it's a complicated question that you ask. And of course, these are very broad topics that we're dealing with that are so intricate and touch so many issues in terms of our communication with each other. And I do think that the government possesses the authority needed to at least put a dent into the disinformation problem. But I think that the Biden administration is going to need to work with Congress.

The good thing, of course, is that it appears that we have political alignment in Congress and in the executive branch, of course, after later this month. As such, I would expect that Democrats will team up with the Biden administration. Maybe even moderate Republicans will team up with the Biden administration and try to do something about Section 230, this law that, of course, gives internet companies immunity, and furthermore, moving past the content moderation questions that are really being pushed on to the public these days.

Also look at the business model. Also look at the ways that these companies collect data on an uninhibited basis and push for privacy reform. And also look at how these companies engage in corporate development practices that lead to the development of a monopoly power. And sometimes that monopoly power is misused even, some have suggested. The government has suggested, in fact. And I think we could see some reform in competition policy as well.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, we were already expecting some form of regulation this year. This feels like this has only expanded that conversation that's going to play out among lawmakers. Dipayan Ghosh with the Harvard Kennedy School Digital Platforms and Democracy Project, always good to talk to you.

DIPAYAN GHOSH: Thank you so much.