Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, was back on Capitol Hill for the first time since 2018, answering many questions about Facebook’s digital currency project and how they are balancing freedom of expression with their need to prevent the spread of false information. One exchange of words was addressing the anti-vaccination movement which seems somewhat confusing.
During the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services hearing, lawmakers hammered Zuckerberg on Facebook’s plan to launch a global digital currency called Libra. In an attempt to derail Zuckerberg it seems that Maxine Waters (D-CA) derailed the entire meeting. She ripped into him for what she referred to as an inability to adequately govern Facebook, which he created.
Waters went on to say that she had examined Facebook’s various issues and came to the conclusion that it would be beneficial for all if Facebook concentrated on addressing their overall imperfections and lack of success before moving forward on their Libra project.
Zuckerberg responded by pointing out, while they debate these issues, the rest of the world is not waiting. While countries like China are getting ready to launch similar ideas in the coming months.
Not a Friendly Chat
Water’s opening comments set the tone for the remaining four-hours-plus of testimony. Legislators questioned Facebook’s decision to continue running political ads with false information and their failure to stop foreign governments from interfering on the platform.
At one point, Bill Posey (R-FL) who is an outspoken supporter of the anti-vaccination movement, wanted the assurance that Facebook would support users’ fair and open discussion and communications discussions regarding the risks as well as the benefits from vaccinations.
Zuckerberg responded to Posey saying they care deeply about giving people a voice and the freedom of expression. At the same time, they also hear constantly from their community that people want them to stop spreading misinformation. So they try to focus on the misinformation that has the potential to lead to physical or imminent harm that can include misleading health advice.
Facebook has attempted to tackle the spread of misinformation by lowering its value in News Feed and making it easier for users to report any false posts. An independent third-party fact-checking organization reviews them and if they find a story is false, it will be flagged as disputed and there will be a link to a corresponding article explaining why.
Unfortunately, Facebook’s fact-checkers have said the process is like playing the game of wack-a-mole and not winning. Various approaches have been criticized for not doing enough to stop the spread of false information across Facebook.
The Official CDC Position
For your information, in 2014 the Centers for Disease Control estimated that vaccinations have prevented over 21 million hospitalization and 732,00 deaths among children born over the past 20 years.
Scientists have not been able to find evidence for claims that vaccines can cause complications such as autism. But the anti-vaccine sentiment has flourished on Facebook as well as other social media platforms which have led to some parents not providing vaccinations for their children which has led to the increase in diseases like measles.
In March, Facebook launched a new policy on anti-vaccination content. They decided to reject ads with false information.
Zuckerberg told Congress that his “understanding of the scientific consensus” is that people should get their vaccinations but Facebook will not stop its users from posting information that is wrong.
He further stated that if someone wants to post anti-vaccination content or if they want to join a group where people are discussing that content, “we” will not prevent them from doing so. But we don’t go out of our way to make sure our group recommendation systems are trying to encourage people to join those groups.
In a nutshell, Facebook will not prevent one of its 2 billion users from posting false information. In some cases, they may not even flag something as wrong. That said, Facebook’s algorithm won’t help it gain traction. If a user wants to spread information on their own, then in the words of Zuckerberg, “that’s freedom of expression.”