November 12, 2019

Does Zuckerberg Understand Free Speech?

“Mark Zuckerberg has rarely been so compelling.

Facing increased scrutiny — especially after leaked audio of an internal meeting in which Zuckerberg called Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) an existential threat — the Facebook CEO outlined his vision of free speech and his company’s role in promoting it at Georgetown University on Thursday.

Often notoriously staid and monotone, in this instance, Zuckerberg was lucid, forceful, and even inspiring. He invoked free speech as a kind of bedrock of democratic societies, and a basic necessity for challenging power and ensuring freedom. It was heady, powerful stuff. But as he went on to defend the company’s controversial decision to allow politicians to run ads full of lies for fear of “potentially cracking down too much,” it became ever more clear Zuckerberg adheres to an ideal of free speech that is stuck in the past.

The point that Zuckerberg returned to over and over again is that he believes more speech is better, and that erring on the side of more expression is always preferable. Essentially, Zuckerberg argued that progress comes from empowering individuals to express themselves, which in turn collectively allows societies to work out their problems in public and with all the facts in front of them.

It was, in short, a classical defense of free speech. Citing the emergence of Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement, Zuckerberg argued that social media forms a fifth estate, a decentralized locus of power that is stronger precisely because it challenges the centralized kind.”

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