Mark Zuckerberg says it’s not Facebook’s job to identify political ads

Mark Zuckerberg shrugged responsibility for vetting political ads ahead of the 2020 election and said it ‘was not a company’s job’ to decide what the rules were as he said he was ‘confident’ Facebook would be able to fight efforts to interfere in the vote but could not guarantee it would be successful. 

In an interview with  ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Thursday, he said he had ‘learned a lot’ since 2016, when Russians tried to interfere in the election via his platform, and that he had poured more than $5billion into preventing them from doing it again next year. 

But he admitted he was finding it difficult to determine what constituted a political advert and that it should not be up to his company to decide what counted as one. 

Saying there were ‘questions’ of what should be left to him and what should be up to the government, he said: ‘I think setting rules around political advertising is not a company’s job. 

‘There’s plenty of rules in the past but they’re just not up to date. We need new rules.’ 

He gave the example that in 2016, the Russian influence was not easy to identify because it did not explicitly endorse a candidate or campaign but was designed to ‘rile people up and be divisive’. 

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Mark Zuckerberg said on Thursday that Facebook was 'ready' for the 2020 election and had 'learned a lot' since Russian bots tried to sway the 2016 election

Mark Zuckerberg said on Thursday that Facebook was 'ready' for the 2020 election and had 'learned a lot' since Russian bots tried to sway the 2016 election

Mark Zuckerberg said on Thursday that Facebook was ‘ready’ for the 2020 election and had ‘learned a lot’ since Russian bots tried to sway the 2016 election 

‘What is the definition of a political ad? All of the laws focus on a candidate or an election but that’s not what we saw Russia trying to do,’ he said. 

‘I’m proud of the progress that we’ve made, there’s a lot more to do. In each of these areas there’s a question of what decisions should be left to a private company to make, especially around things like speech and expression for so many people around the world, and and where should we have either industry or more government regulation,’ he said. 

 There’s a question of what decisions should be left to a private company to make, especially around things like speech and expression for so many people around the world, and and where should we have either industry or more government regulation

‘After 2016, when we saw what Russia tried to do in interfering with the election, we’ve implemented a lot of different measures to try to verify any advertiser who is running a political ad, to create an archive of all the political ads so that anyone can see, but one of the things that’s unclear is actually what is the definition of a political ad? 

‘All of the laws primarily focus on a candidate and an election but that’s not primarily what we saw Russia trying to do. What we saw them doing was talking about divisive political issues and the goal wasn’t actually to advance the issue forward, it was just to rile people up and be divisive,’ he said. 

Zuckerberg dismissed criticism of his efforts to block it, saying he was not policing the first amendment by taking down any content that he perceived as being suspicious, and said the current laws do not accommodate for the threats being posed today. 

‘You can say that any regulation around what someone says is protected, but that’s clearly not right today.

‘The current laws around political advertising don’t consider discussing issues to be political. It’s not clear to me that we want a private company to making that kind of decision on what is political speech and how should that be regulated.

‘That seems like something there should be a more democratic process around,’ he said. 

In spite of the murkiness surrounding what should and should not be allowed, he said he was ‘confident’ the company was prepared for next year’s election ‘because there have been a number of major elections since 2016, where the results have been relatively clean on this front’ but said he could not guarantee that Facebook would be able to block attempts to sway the result this year. 

These are the types of Russian-sponsored Facebook ads that Zuckerberg said were hard to police because they do not fall under the rules of political advertising. Both appeared online ahead of the 2016 election and were designed to 'rile people up' and 'be divisive' rather than promote a specific candidate or campaign

These are the types of Russian-sponsored Facebook ads that Zuckerberg said were hard to police because they do not fall under the rules of political advertising. Both appeared online ahead of the 2016 election and were designed to 'rile people up' and 'be divisive' rather than promote a specific candidate or campaign

These are the types of Russian-sponsored Facebook ads that Zuckerberg said were hard to police because they do not fall under the rules of political advertising. Both appeared online ahead of the 2016 election and were designed to 'rile people up' and 'be divisive' rather than promote a specific candidate or campaign

These are the types of Russian-sponsored Facebook ads that Zuckerberg said were hard to police because they do not fall under the rules of political advertising. Both appeared online ahead of the 2016 election and were designed to 'rile people up' and 'be divisive' rather than promote a specific candidate or campaign

These are the types of Russian-sponsored Facebook ads that Zuckerberg said were hard to police because they do not fall under the rules of political advertising. Both appeared online ahead of the 2016 election and were designed to ‘rile people up’ and ‘be divisive’ rather than promote a specific candidate or campaign

‘We’ve learned a lot since 2016, where, obviously, we were behind where we needed to be on defenses for nation states trying to interfere,’ he said, adding that he was sure outside forces were going to ‘try’ to sway the election.

‘What I can guarantee is that they’re definitely going to try. That’s what we’ve seen. 

‘So our job is to make the defenses stronger and stronger, to make it harder for them to do what they’re doing and to build the right partnerships with other folks in the industry and in the intelligence community, so that way, together, we can get a good sense of what is going on out there and help keep this safe,’ he said. 

‘There’s not like a single thing that we can do and say, “All right, we’ve put this in place so now they can’t even try to interfere.” 

‘They’re always going to try.’  

 We’ve learned a lot since 2016, where, obviously, we were behind where we needed to be on defenses for nation states trying to interfere

Zuckerberg also gave details of the new, 40-person oversight board Facebook has planned which will determine whether or not content should remain online.

He said Facebook was ‘dealing with a lot of major social issues’ but that, unlike in years gone by, the company was taking a ‘more proactive’ stance about what is right and wrong.   

‘The big journey we’ve been on is really getting much more proactive about seeking out where there might be issues and making sure we’re investing appropriately to handle them. 

‘We now are doing way more on each of those fronts in order to identify issues and get ahead,’ he said.  

He also gave details of the oversight board due to be instated which, he said, would have a ‘judicial structure’. 

‘If you’re in the community, if we take something down that you think is valid expression, you’re going to be able to appeal that to this oversight board. 

‘And they’re going to have the binding authority to make a decision,’ he said.

Elsewhere, he defended the Facebook live despite it being used by the Christchurch mosque killer to broadcast his mass murder and said he would not implement a delay because it would disrupt other users’ who were using it harmlessly. 

Decrying the attack as a ‘terrible event’, he said 200 people initially viewed the terrorist’s footage on Facebook Live and that they had been told, somewhere else, that he was plotting it. 

He said that what he learned from it was that Facebook need to be able to identify terrorism or violence in real time more quickly. 

‘One of the big takeaways form that is we need to build our systems to identify live stream terror events more quickly,’ he said.

He however does not believe that Facebook is amplifies terrorism or hatred and that he will not dismantle Facebook Live. 

Admitting that ‘in this case’, a delay could have stopped so many deaths being shown on the site, Zuckerberg said: ‘But it would also fundamentally break what livestreaming is for people. 

‘Most people are livestreaming, you know, a birthday party or hanging out with friends when they can’t be together. 

‘It’s one of the things that’s magical about livestreaming is that it’s bi-directional, right? So you’re not just broadcasting. 

‘You’re communicating. And people are commenting back. So if you had a delay that would break that.’ 

‘I don’t want our work to be something that goes towards amplifying really negative stereotypes or hate,’ he said, adding that he was an ‘idealistic’ person who created the site to ‘give everybody a voice’. 

He said he was ‘more surprised than he should have been’ about the spate of scandals the company has faced over the last several years but seemed to blame them on others, saying: ‘If you’re serving two billion people, you’re going to see people trying to abuse those systems.’ 

The father-of-two also said he was happy for his kids to use the internet and Facebook depending ‘on what they use it for’. 

Zuckerberg made similar statements when discussing the European elections earlier this week, saying it would be an ‘arms race’ to fight interference in those votes too. 

‘We’ve certainly made a lot of progress in building defenses to protect the integrity of elections. But no, I don’t think anyone can guarantee in a world where you have nation states [that] are trying to interfere in elections there is no single thing that we can do, and say okay, we have now solved the issue.

‘This is an ongoing arms race,’ he said.  

‘I think these days a lot of people don’t want tech companies or any private companies to be making so many decisions about what speech is acceptable and what this harmful content that needs to be gets taken down,’ he said.

‘So I think there is a role for a broader public debate here and I think some of these things would benefit from a more democratic process and a more active government role.’ 

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