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By Ryan Tracy
WASHINGTON -- Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg asserted his commitment to free speech over more aggressive policing of social-media platforms, in a rare policy speech that could have ramifications for the U.S. presidential campaign and social movements world-wide.
In a speech at Georgetown University, Mr. Zuckerberg said he believes it is dangerous for people to focus more on their desired political outcomes than giving a range of voices the opportunity to be heard. He compared the current moment of political polarization to other periods of intense social change, including the civil-rights movement.
"Some people believe that giving more people a voice is driving division rather than bringing people together," he said, reading from a teleprompter in an auditorium packed with students. "I am here today because I believe we must continue to stand for free expression."
Mr. Zuckerberg's speech on Thursday took place amid a brewing debate about whether Facebook should make judgments over whether political ads contain falsehoods, and days before the executive will appear on Capitol Hill to face lawmakers.
The speech gave Mr. Zuckerberg a chance to address policy makers on his terms, a contrast to congressional hearings where lawmakers control the dialogue. He said ahead of the speech that he wanted to communicate "an unfiltered take" on how he views questions around free expression on Facebook.
The speech is also a part of Facebook's stepped-up effort to court allies in Washington -- a campaign that has included Mr. Zuckberberg meeting privately with President Donald Trump, lawmakers in both parties and conservative commentators such as Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Facebook's standing in Washington has deteriorated since the 2016 election, with both parties criticizing the company for being a vehicle for disinformation and for repeatedly breaking its own promises to protect users' privacy.
This year, that political angst has hit the company's bottom line. Facebook agreed to pay a $5 billion fine for privacy violations in July, and its efforts to launch a new cryptocurrency-based payments network are in doubt due to criticism from policy makers. Most ominously, U.S. antitrust authorities, as well as state attorneys general, are investigating whether the company should face antitrust sanctions for abusing its market power.
Write to Ryan Tracy at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 17, 2019 14:20 ET (18:20 GMT)
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