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Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg tries to defend website on its birthday

Some people attacking site are afraid of how it is empowering people, says founder and CEO

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 05 February 2019 13:10 GMT
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a press conference in Paris on May 23, 2018
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a press conference in Paris on May 23, 2018 (Getty)

Mark Zuckerberg says that Facebook is being criticised too much – and that people dislike it partly because it is empowering people.

In a message posted to celebrate his company’s 15th birthday, the founder and boss defended his company after a bruising period that has seen it accused of abusing people’s most personal data and failing to act to stop deadly misinformation.

He admitted the company had more to do around disturbing content but also suggested he does not get enough credit for the positive impact Facebook has had on the world.

Mr Zuckerberg claimed he had founded Facebook in response to the fact that it was possible to find many things – such as films and music – on the internet, but not people. He did not make any reference to any of the more sordid uses that the early Facebook was put to, including a central feature that allowed people to rate how attractive other students were.

Facebook has been the subject of intense scrutiny in the last year following a number of data breaches and questions over user privacy.

There are also growing concerns over the safety of younger users on wider social media because of disturbing content around self-harm and suicide that continues to appear online.

Mr Zuckerberg acknowledges the site’s “responsibility” to continue working to improve safety and security, but also accused institutions such as media and government of being overly critical of the firm.

“We’re now taking steps that wouldn’t have been possible even just a few years ago – for example, this year we plan to spend more on safety and security than our whole revenue at the time of our IPO, and the artificial intelligence required to help manage content at scale didn’t exist until recently,” he wrote.

“But as people use these networks to shape society, it’s critical we continue making progress on these questions.

“At the same time, there is another force at play as well.

“As networks of people replace traditional hierarchies and reshape many institutions in our society – from government to business to media to communities and more – there is a tendency of some people to lament this change, to overly emphasise the negative, and in some cases to go so far as saying the shift to empowering people in the ways the internet and these networks do is mostly harmful to society and democracy.”

Facebook’s business practices and use of a data-based business model have been scrutinised by lawmakers as well as other technology firms in recent months.

In addition, a number of recent reports have warned that Facebook and wider social media face stricter legislation if they continue to fail to fully protect users, particularly young people, from disturbing content on their platforms.

The Facebook boss has repeatedly refused to appear personally before MPs on parliamentary committees and face questions on fake news, election interference and data usage.

However, Mr Zuckerberg said current uncertainties around the nature and safety of social media were in part down to the industry still being in its infancy.

Facebook set to merge Instagram, Whatsapp and Messenger

“While any rapid social change creates uncertainty, I believe what we’re seeing is people having more power, and a long-term trend reshaping society to be more open and accountable over time,” he said.

“We’re still in the early stages of this transformation and in many ways it is just getting started.

“But if the last 15 years were about people building these new networks and starting to see their impact, then the next 15 years will be about people using their power to remake society in ways that have the potential to be profoundly positive for decades to come.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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