Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears to threaten politicians who want to break up the company with election interference ‘issues’, and warns that unregulated social media would create angry crowds, in recently leaked audio.
Breaking up Big Tech firms like Facebook “is not actually going to solve the issues,” Zuckerberg complained during a July open question-and-answer meeting with employees, a recording of which was obtained by The Verge. Instead, he warned, it’ll make them worse.
It doesn’t make election interference less likely. It makes it more likely because now the companies can’t coordinate and work together.
Why broken-up Facebooklets would refuse to coordinate to quash “election interference,” one can only wonder. The statement, which could be easily interpreted as a veiled threat, comes in response to widespread concern that Facebook is a monopoly with too much power over what information people see online. Facebook previously threatened the journalism industry with extinction if publishers refused to cooperate with the social media behemoth (“I’ll be holding hands with your dying business like in a hospice,” his deputy Campbell Brown warned publishers in a meeting last year, adding that Zuckerberg “doesn’t care” about what happens to them if they scorn Facebook’s olive branch), and Zuckerberg is very much aware of the amount of political power his company wields, especially heading into an election year.
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But Facebook being broken up isn’t even a concern, as the CEO said the company would “win the legal challenge” should Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren or any other candidate calling for the break up of the Big Tech monopolies actually follow through on that campaign promise. The court battle would “still suck for us,” though, since “I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government.”
My plan to #BreakUpBigTech would undo their illegal, anticompetitive mergers. You’ll still be able to use Facebook and Instagram to catch up with friends and family and share photos of your dog. But they’ll have to compete with each other to make a better product for you.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 1, 2019
“We care about our country and want to work with our government to do good things. But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.” Translation: we care about our country, as long as it doesn’t get in our way. And other countries? Asked about skipping hearings where he was expected to testify in Canada and the UK, Zuckerberg indicated he didn’t care so much about those: “It just doesn’t really make sense for me to go to hearings in every single country that wants to have me show up,” he explained, sounding genuinely bewildered that such a thing might be expected of him.
One particularly interesting employee question concerned how to improve Facebook’s “self-image” – what to tell friends and family who hate or fear the social network. Zuckerberg’s answer was elusive and vague – tell critics that “you care about the problems and acknowledge that there are issues and that you’re working through them.”
And Zuckerberg insisted – despite that boilerplate answer – that caring is genuine. He “really cares” about “making sure that our products promote positive well-being,” he said, adding that this concern was behind the company’s decision to more prominently feature content from “friends and family” in newsfeeds, deemphasizing political and viral content. That decision hurt both the producers of such content and the company itself, which lost $100 billion of market cap in one day as the number of users fell dramatically – a historic record for a single-day drop, according to Zuckerberg, who laughed it off.
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He also tried to smooth over the rough rollout of Libra, Facebook’s digital currency that has been panned by governments worldwide, claiming that “the public things” – presumably meaning politicians’ calls for extreme scrutiny of the project owing to Facebook’s history of privacy abuses – “tend to be a little more dramatic” but private meetings with regulators have been much easier.
While Zuckerberg doesn’t seem to be a fan of regulations targeting Libra, he is very supportive of regulation of social media – and it has more to do with dodging the pitchforks of angry users than innate virtue. Without regulation, “people are just going to keep on getting angrier and angrier … demand more extreme measures, and eventually people just say ‘Screw it, take a hammer to the whole thing.’”
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