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Kara Swisher's Take On Mark Zuckerberg's 'Free Speech' Speech


We're going to revisit a story we've covered regularly on this program - Facebook and how it handles false or misleading content. Critics from around the world have become increasingly vocal about this, saying Facebook has become a vehicle for the rapid dissemination of lies and needs more regulation. Despite this, Facebook has reaffirmed that it will continue to exempt politicians from fact-checking, allowing them to make false statements in their paid advertisements. On Thursday, though, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg decided to address the matter further with a nearly 40-minute speech at Georgetown University on the value of free expression.


MARK ZUCKERBERG: Giving more people a voice gives power to the powerless, and it pushes society to get better over time.

MARTIN: To talk more about this, we've called on Kara Swisher. She is the co-founder and editor at large of Recode. That is a media outlet that covers the digital world.

Kara, thank you so much for joining us.

KARA SWISHER: Thanks so much.

MARTIN: And I do want to disclose here that Facebook is among NPR's recent financial supporters. Having said that, what was the importance of this speech, Kara? Was any news made there?

SWISHER: Well, I'm sort of trying to figure it out still. He's sort of on a PR offensive again. And right now, it's around free speech and trying to defend what has happened on Facebook as being sort of a binary choice between free speech or, I guess, China. I can't really quite figure it out I actually thought the speech was pretty thin intellectually on an incredibly complicated topic.

MARTIN: The New York Times posted a piece this weekend that talks about the overwhelming financial advantage that the Trump campaign...


MARTIN: ...Has. And even as some of the broadcast networks are refusing to air certain ads, Facebook is taking advantage of the fact that the platform has said it will not subject politicians' statements to fact-checking. And so they're posting ads that say things that have been completely debunked. Did he directly address that?

SWISHER: Well, he did. He - there was a question about that. And he said he had thought about removing political advertising from Facebook, which was a - it's not really news because he didn't do it. But it's very clear he could remove people who are running for office. You know, and I don't know what he would do about super PACs. But I think the issue was is, this has been something that's been actually in place - is that Facebook and Twitter - and not just Facebook but Twitter and YouTube - they allow all kinds of egregious lying to go on. And especially when they're newsworthy figures on Twitter - they use the term newsworthy to allow, say, Donald Trump to violate its terms daily, essentially.

And so they're saying because we want all the voices to speak, we're not going to be the ones that are arbiters of what politicians say. We'll let the public at large decide even if they're lying and that there's a mechanism in place, which is called the press, that will say, these are lies. The problem is, once these lies get out there, they get the same amount of attention that it's hard to pull them apart.

And that's the one thing they don't realize - they're not like television, which has certain rules around what it's allowed to broadcast or any other medium because it's so pervasive. It's so hard to understand what's real and what's not. And it's everywhere around us. And I think that's the part he missed out. He was trying to compare himself to radio or TV, and it's not - it's just simply not the same thing.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Zuckerberg is going to testify for the second time in front of Congress. He's expected to speak before the House Financial Services Committee next Wednesday. What is that about?

SWISHER: Well, it was supposed to be about Libra, which is this currency that Facebook - (laughter) they're moving into dating and currency, which, what could go wrong? So they have this currency called Libra that they're in a consortium with. A number of big payment providers pulled out of the consortium last week. And so it's going to be very hard for them to talk about it because now it's not quite the same thing as they initially introduced. They're trying to do this in a partnership style, as they should.

But I think people are worried about Facebook having any control over money. And so I'm not sure what he's going to say because there's not a lot he can say about what's going on. So I suspect they'll be asking all kinds of different questions about Facebook's intentions around payments. It could be a big player, or it could be - and it could be a dangerous player. So we'll see.

MARTIN: That was Kara Swisher, co-founder and editor-at-large of Recode.

Kara, thanks so much for talking with us.

SWISHER: Thank you so much Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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