Mark Zuckerberg Defends Facebook as Bastion of Free Speech

ONE TIME USE - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Georgetown University, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in Washington. - AP Photo-H 2019
AP Photo/Nick Wass

"I'm here today because I believe that we must continue to stand for free expression," the CEO said during a live-streamed address at Georgetown University.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a public address before Georgetown University students on Thursday to defend the social media giant as a bastion for free speech and pushed back against critics who have derided the platform for promoting disinformation and hateful content. 

During a speech, lasting more than 30 minutes, that was live-streamed on his Facebook page, Zuckerberg unpacked his argument for Facebook's content policies, telling the crowd, "I'm here today because I believe we must continue to stand for free expression." 

Midway through, more than 28,000 people were watching the live stream. By the end, the video had received more than 4,000 reactions and 2,000 comments. 

His comments come as political ad spending heats up heading into the 2020 presidential election, during which Facebook will be a powerful tool for candidates to reach voters. "Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media chooses to cover," he said, explaining Facebook's decision to continue to run political ads on its platform and not fact-check or moderate their messages. 

Facebook was one of the primary tools used during the 2016 election by Russia's Internet Research Agency to push pro-Donald Trump propaganda. The company was caught flat-footed and, in the years since, has invested in content moderation. Zuckerberg said Thursday that the company now has 35,000 people dedicated to working on security. 

Central to Zuckerberg's argument was the importance of protecting American values like free speech as Chinese-born social media platforms like TikTok that censor speech but are becoming increasingly popular around the world. "I wanted our services in China … but we could never come to an agreement," he said during the speech. "Now we have more freedom," he continued, adding that he didn't want another nation's platform to "set the rules of discourse." 

Zuckerberg, who became impassioned multiple times throughout the speech, ended by noting, "Whether you like Facebook or not, I think we need to recognize what is at stake and come together to stand for voice and free expression at this critical moment." He concluded, "We can bring the world closer together."