Mark Zuckerberg's Georgetown speech: First Amendment, China's censorship and more

Zuckerberg stood his ground, saying social media had introduced avenues for speech that should not be shut down.

Mark Zuckerberg had announced that he will be presenting a live speech that he’s been writing to reflect his views on voice and free expression. At 10.30 pm IST he delivered this speech which consisted of freedom of expression on the social media platform, China's great firewall blocking all its services, defending the company's political ad campaign and more.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Reuters

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Reuters

In his speech at Georgetown University, there were several references to the First Amendment and the fight for democracy, Zuckerberg stood his ground, saying social media had introduced transformative avenues for speech that should not be shut down.

"People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world. It is a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society," he said.

Zuckerberg framed the company's decisions around that concept, including its recent retreat from years of the aggressive courtship of China, an obstacle to his vision of connecting the world's population.

Facebook has tried for years to break into China, one of the last great obstacles to Zuckerberg's vision of connecting the world's entire population on the company's apps.

"I wanted our services in China because I believe in connecting the whole world, and I thought maybe we could help in creating a more open society. I worked hard on this for a long time, but we could never come to an agreement on what it would take for us to operate there," he said. "They never let us in."

The Facebook CEO had met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing recently and welcomed the country's top internet regulator to Facebook's campus.

The company briefly won a license to open an "innovation hub" in Hangzhou last year, but it was later revoked. Zuckerberg had later announced his plan to pivot Facebook towards more private forms of communication and said that he will not be building data centres in countries "that have a track record of violating human rights like privacy or freedom of expression."

He also mentioned the rising threat of TikTok and said that the short video platform censored political protest, including in the United States. TikTok has denied China censors its content, saying it is "not influenced by any foreign government."

Zuckerberg also defended the company's political advertising policies on similar grounds, saying Facebook had at one time considered banning all political ads but decided against it, erring on the side of greater expression.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination as been especially vocal about her critiques of Facebook, bashing its advertising policy and calling for the company to be broken up on antitrust grounds.

With inputs from Reuters

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