Instead, his 30-minute discussion with LinkedIn co-founder and tech investor Reid Hoffman focused mainly on the mushrooming institution of social media and the complex challenges it presents. They also touched on topics like regulation, innovation in the financial sector and surveillance methods in various countries. In all, it was fresher ground for Murdoch, who has been reaching well beyond traditional media as the founder and CEO of venture firm LUPA Systems. The pair closed the opening day of the Paley Center’s International Council Summit in a session titled “Technology, Media and Society.”
Murdoch was polished and diplomatic. He didn’t make any comments that directly referred to his family’s new business at Fox Corp. or his tenure as a longtime key member of the Fox fold. But he conveyed a sense of energy and enthusiasm in addressing issues he previously would have had to do as the uber-boss of Fox News and the loyal ambassador of the Murdoch family.
In addressing the ethical aspects to high-tech surveillance, Murdoch said when he lived in London, he was “very aware” of being tracked, and not just because of his surname. “It was weird,” he said.
LUPA Systems is diversified but has holdings in media. It recently bought out Madison Square Garden’s stake in Tribeca Enterprises and also took a position in Vice Media. So, Murdoch’s experience running media companies still comes into play. The conversation occasionally reflected that.
“When you look at the distribution of the discourse generally in a digital environment, the speed at which it’s spread is very, very difficult” to grapple with, Murdoch said.
They didn’t itemize the companies and issues, or call out any specific executives, but the general reference point was clearly social media giants like Facebook and Twitter. Those companies and others have long resisted the idea of policing the content on their platforms. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has continued to maintain a defiant public stance amid increasingly loud calls for Facebook to crack down on misleading political ads and bogus content.
“When Silicon Valley folks and platform folks say, ‘You don’t want us to be the editor,’ they’re trying to sidestep the accusation that they’re trying to manipulate society,” Hoffman said. “They’re following these algorithms, they’re giving them enagagement. If there’s something that you want, you need to tell us what those principles are such that we can then bring them into our algorithms.”
Murdoch largely agreed, there’s some of that which they could reasonably be expected to decide themselves. Nobody is expecting that a platform is going to be line-editing all of the content on it. But to the extent that they are building rules around what is optimized, how it works, et cetera, then that’s an area where they could take more responsibility. … A generally more proactive stance.”
In the regulatory arena, Murdoch said, broadcast television has functioned well for decades under the widely held assumption that it should have limits against incitement or other speech.
Cable TV, he said, is “a notch below” broadcast in terms of the rigor of regulation, a reality that has led to a “more raucous environment in cable news.”
Social media compared with any other arena, he said, has been untouched despite its increasing centrality in society and politics.
“People say, ‘I’d like to roll back the clock,'” Hoffman said. “That’s not really an option.”