He may not have mentioned music, but Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s speech at Georgetown University yesterday is essential reading for anyone who’s interested in how the social network’s upper echelons view the world. Titled ‘Standing For Voice and Free Expression’, it focuses on some of the many controversies around what kind of free speech Facebook does (or doesn’t) allow on its platform.
It’s hard to summarise in a short story like this, but at the heart of Zuckerberg’s argument is this. “People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society,” he said. “People no longer have to rely on traditional gatekeepers in politics or media to make their voices heard, and that has important consequences… giving people a voice and broader inclusion go hand in hand, and the trend has been towards greater voice over time. But there’s also a counter-trend. In times of social turmoil, our impulse is often to pull back on free expression. We want the progress that comes from free expression, but not the tension.”
There’s a lot more though: “We’re at another cross-roads. We can continue to stand for free expression, understanding its messiness, but believing that the long journey towards greater progress requires confronting ideas that challenge us. Or we can decide the cost is simply too great. I’m here today because I believe we must continue to stand for free expression.”
It’s fair to say that the reactions have been… mixed. ‘Zuckerberg has a bizarre take on history. More Facebook doesn’t equal more democracy,” wrote The Guardian’s Julia Carrie Wong, while ‘Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t know his civil rights history’ is one headline coming out of the Washington Post.
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