Facebook's Zuckerberg Backs Privacy Legislation

Date : 06/27/2019 @ 1:24AM
Source : Dow Jones News
Stock : Facebook, Inc. (FB)
Quote : 198.36  -2.42 (-1.21%) @ 1:00AM

Facebook's Zuckerberg Backs Privacy Legislation

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By Jeff Horwitz and Deepa Seetharaman 

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive and co-founder of Facebook Inc., endorsed federal privacy legislation and greater regulation of political advertising, even as he cast governments as too slow to address many of the internet's thorniest problems.

In an appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado on Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg said the company was racing to solve problems such as misinformation and how best to police online content. He expressed hope that governments would ultimately build a framework for tackling those matters.

"Regulation and a robust democratic process is the best way to handle some of these issues but we also aren't going to wait for those things to happen," he said.

Mr. Zuckerberg's remarks, among his most expansive yet about the challenges facing his company and the tech industry, came hours after the White House dialed up its criticism of Silicon Valley and called for a social-media summit on July 11 to have "a robust conversation" about the responsibility of online platforms.

President Trump on Wednesday reiterated his view that Facebook and other tech giants are biased against him and his followers -- claims that the companies have steadfastly denied.

Also on Wednesday, in an illustration of the intensity surrounding this debate, Reddit Inc. quarantined a pro-Trump user group on its platform after it said members threatened violence against both law-enforcement officers and public officials. A spokeswoman for the popular discussion forum said threats of violence are a violation of its user policies.

Speaking with Cass Sunstein, a Harvard professor and occasional Facebook consultant, Mr. Zuckerberg expressed frustration both with calls to break up the company and with the U.S. government's handling of Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 election.

Critics, including Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, have argued that Facebook should be broken up because its dominance and penchant for copying rivals squash competition and Mr. Zuckerberg has too much power over the platform.

"I can kind of get why, politically, saying you want to break up the companies feels nice," Mr. Zuckerberg said. But he added that Facebook's vast resources give it more capacity than smaller rivals like Twitter Inc. and Reddit have to invest in moderating content and protecting public discourse from foreign actors.

Even with those resources, Mr. Zuckerberg said, Facebook can't discourage attacks on public discourse by foreign governments alone. He suggested that the U.S. government needed to help -- and that it had failed to adequately respond to Russian election interference.

"When the government didn't take any kind of counteraction, the signal sent to the world was that we're open for business," he said. "Fundamentally, there isn't going to be a major recourse from the American government."

Mr. Zuckerberg's calls for more regulation come as the social-media company is bracing for an expected multibillion-dollar fine from the Federal Trade Commission over its privacy lapses, and along with other tech giants is preparing to be the subject of antitrust scrutiny.

Mr. Zuckerberg also addressed the criticism that his company's acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp hindered competition, with some arguing that they should be unwound. Mr. Zuckerberg said that the two units blossomed under Facebook's umbrella and that it is wrong to assume they would have had the same level of success on their own.

"Yes, some mergers can be bad for innovation," he said. "These weren't."

Mr. Zuckerberg outlined steps Facebook has taken to protect online discourse around elections, define reasonable boundaries for public debate and give users control over their data and experience on the platform.

Since the 2016 U.S. election, he said, Facebook and other platforms have done a better job of preventing foreign interference.

"The results have been a lot cleaner online," he said, though that conclusion has been disputed by civil-society groups monitoring recent elections in India, Europe and Brazil.

Mr. Zuckerberg said he thought the Honest Ads Act would be a "good floor" for regulation.

Mr. Zuckerberg said that he believed Facebook was already doing most of what would be required by the act, which would mandate internet advertising platforms make reasonable efforts to prevent foreign election advertising and increase disclosure regarding what political ads are bought.

Last year, Facebook unveiled an archive for political ads purchased on the platform with some details about the buyers.

Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook is currently evaluating its policy on "deep fakes" or videos that have been digitally manipulated in misleading ways. Last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) slammed Facebook for refusing to take down a doctored video of her that was slowed down to make her appear to slur her words.

Mr. Zuckerberg said it was an execution mistake by the company not to act quicker to stop the video from spreading.

Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook needed to develop rules precise enough to be followed by its army of content moderators.

"I think that we need to make sure that we define what a deep fake is very clearly," he said, noting that he doesn't believe the company should be in the business of stopping people from sharing among friends any information that turned out to be false.

Those issues are likely to be discussed at a summit announced by the White House shortly after President Trump said in an interview on Fox Business Network that online giants such as Google and Facebook are "trying to rig the election," while Twitter is making it harder for users to follow him.

The administration moves appear to suggest that the White House and its Republican allies will make alleged anticonservative bias a major issue heading into the 2020 election, as they did in 2018. The companies generally have denied accusations that they try to suppress conservative speech online.

Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 26, 2019 20:09 ET (00:09 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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