Opinion: Sheryl Sandberg can lean in and tell Facebook’s Zuckerberg to keep his word, ban hate speech

  • Facebook
  • Wednesday, 01 Jul 2020

There’s a war on democracy, and it’s time for everybody to pick a side. For too long, Zuckerberg picked the wrong one. — Reuters

There’s nothing like taking a US$7bil (RM29.96bil) hit to one’s net worth to suddenly bolster a guy’s belief in truth, justice and the American way.

Mark Zuckerberg has caved. Until recently, so staunchly resistant to banning hateful speech from the powerful public forum that he co-founded, Facebook, he posted on June 26: “So, today we’re prohibiting a wider category of hateful content in ads. Specifically, we’re expanding our ads policy to prohibit claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others.”

It’s been like pulling teeth to get him to this point of human decency. But what pushed Zuck to act was major companies pulling ads and announcing boycotts.

There’s a war on democracy, and it’s time for everybody to pick a side. For too long, Zuckerberg picked the wrong one.

Spreading lies

Right now, authoritarians are a real and possibly irredeemable threat to the American experiment, thanks in no small measure to their success at turning vast swaths of Facebook into a superspreader of disinformation and distrust. Nobody questions Facebook’s right to make a buck, or a few billion bucks. But people of conscience could no longer pretend not to notice that Facebook is a leading supplier of safe houses for all manner of enemies foreign and domestic, where individuals who traffic in hatred, fear mongering and falsehoods can always find soulmates and kindred spirits.

The company has been condemned for allowing US president Donald Trump’s provocations to stand. Other platforms, including Twitter, had recently started flagging his posts for promoting violence or spreading misinformation.

The real-world consequences of Facebook’s ugly underbelly, at long last, became impossible to ignore. A growing number of prominent businesses are pulling advertising to protest what ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s calls Facebook’s willingness to “divide our nation, suppress voters, foment and fan the flames of racism and violence, and undermine our democracy”.

Unilever said it would pull advertising from Facebook and Twitter for the rest of the year; Verizon, too, joined the boycott. Coca-Cola announced it’s suspending ads for 30 days. The public has grown weary of gaslighting and nonsense from Facebook executives like Neil Potts, head of “trust and safety policy”, who attempted last week to placate advertisers by admitting the obvious: Facebook suffers from a “trust deficit”, but, by golly, it’s trying to improve.

Friday, Facebook stock plunged. Zuckerberg was US$7bil (RM29.96bil) poorer. (No worries, he’s got about US$82bil [RM350.96bil] left.) Therefore, Facebook would also be “expanding our policies to better protect immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from ads suggesting these groups are inferior or expressing contempt, dismissal or disgust directed at them”.

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, grew up in Miami, surrounded by the best values the Magic City has to offer. She’s an extraordinarily powerful and influential player, and we implore her to use that influence to lean in and keep Zuckerberg true to his word. Rogue nations and random racists have been all too free to make friends and attract followers in their efforts to be the next Maduro, the next David Duke, the next Nikolas Cruz.

We stand at the intersection of a public health crisis, an economic collapse and a long overdue reckoning with our original sin. We need every ounce of grace and goodwill we can get. What we don’t need is a social network that’s too big to behave if it doesn’t feel like it. – Miami Herald/Tribune News Service

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