Facebook is under the microscope. There have been countless government officials questioning Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg not just only the social media giant’s workplace policies and diversity but also its part in spreading misinformation during the 2016 elections and beyond. The scrutiny has been nonstop but recently Zuckerberg used civil rights icons Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass to bolster his belief that Facebook is protected by free speech and declared that Facebook only police political speech on the site.
The conjuring up of civil rights icons to defend himself has resulted in backlash.
The incident happened when the Facebook chief executive addressed students at Georgetown University. During his 35-minute speech, he called for more free speech.
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This, while Facebook is being attacked for its current policies. In fact, presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren has been coming down hard on the platform. She recently accused Facebook of being a “disinformation-for-profit machine.”
But Zuckerberg is in defense mode.
During his speech at Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall, Zuckerberg charged that his social network should be allowed to be an arbiter of speech and that it was founded to give people a voice and bring them together.
“To make his case, Zuckerberg invoked Frederick Douglass, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Vietnam War and the First Amendment. He contrasted Facebook’s position with that of China, where the authorities control and censor speech, and which he tried unsuccessfully for years to enter to turbocharge his company’s business,” the New York Times reported.
“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,” Zuckerberg said.
“I’m here today because I believe we must continue to stand for free expression,” he said.
And not too many were pleased Zukerberg invoked the civil rights icons in his Georgetown speech. One of Dr. King’s daughters, Bernice King, also tweeted that she had heard Zuckerberg’s speech and his reference to her father.
“I’d like to help Facebook better understand the challenges #MLK faced from disinformation campaigns launched by politicians,” she wrote. “These campaigns created an atmosphere for his assassination.”
Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition representing 220 civil rights groups, said she spoke to Mr. Zuckerberg last week to express alarm about the policy. She said he told her the public could make its own determinations about false statements and racially divisive content from politicians.
“Mark Zuckerberg is co-opting civil rights history to try to justify Facebook’s policies that do long-term damage to our democracy,” Gupta said. “The company is in denial about what’s happening.”
Zuckerberg has some roadblocks ahead.
“In recent weeks, Facebook’s challenges have piled up. In Europe, the region’s top court ruled this month that individual countries could order the company to take down posts not only in their own countries but elsewhere. Several of Facebook’s partners on a cryptocurrency initiative dropped out after regulators complained. And the company found itself in the eye of a storm in the United States — including with Warren, the Massachusetts senator who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination — over how to treat political speech,” the Times reported.
“Zuckerberg attempted to use the Constitution as a shield for his company’s bottom line, and his choice to cloak Facebook’s policy in a feigned concern for free expression demonstrates how unprepared his company is for this unique moment in our history and how little it has learned over the past few years,” said Bill Russo, a spokesman for the presidential campaign of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.