Stepping into choppy waters for social media, Facebook chairman-CEO Mark Zuckerberg weighed in, saying Wednesday the platform’s criteria for removing content remains “imminent harm” — not harm “down the line.” But he told shareholders at the company’s annual meeting that the company continues to police hate speech that dehumanizes and incites violence.
It’s complicated, in other words. At the meeting, held virtually for the first time, Zuckerberg did not address the current controversy over President Donald Trump’s social media war against mail-in ballots, which some states in the grip of a pandemic have said they’ll use. Twitter has slapped a fact-check warning on Trump’s tweets claiming mail-in ballots result in rampant voter fraud, leading the president to ramp up his war on social media.
Zuckerberg said several times that, in the balance, he thinks of himself “as being on the side of giving people a voice and pushing back on censorship.”
“Our default position is giving people a voice and then carving out places where there could be real harm, not down the line. [Where] if you allow this speech, it could lead to real, imminent harm. Then we try to craft policies that we can enforce at larger scale [and] try to be as open and as thoughtful as possible.” The policies are not perfect, he acknowledged.
Facebook held votes on the election and pay of directors and on eight proposals submited by shareholders asking for more say on company decisions and more transparency on its political advertising, human and civil rights questions and gender and racial diversity. Stockholders submitting proposals and allowed to speak for three minutes each insisted, as they have at previous meetings, that Facebook is too big and influential for one individual, Zuckerberg, to have as much sway as he does. A system of dual class stock gives the founder control of more than 50% of the vote.
Shareholder proposals asked for changes including an independent chairman, eliminating the super-voting shares, and replacing directors who don’t receive a majority of shareholder support. Voting was done remotely. All directors were confirmed and none of the shareholder proposals passed, the company said. It will report the actual vote tallies in an SEC filing later.
Shareholders emphasized that more independent more voices are needed as ongoing scandals and controversy has, and can, endanger Facebook’s financial and reputational health even as the U.S. Department of Justice has announced a broad antirust review of big tech.
Facebook’s 2.6 billion users give it unprecedented reach, noted Susan Perez, a portfolio manager at Harrington Investments, who brought up the issue of political interference and fraudulent content on the platform. “Society’s risk is also the company’s risk,” she said.
Nick Clegg, Facebook’s president of global affairs and communications, said during a question and answer session, said the company doesn’t think a private tech company “should be in the position of vetting what politicians say. We think people should be allowed to hear what politicians say so they can make up their own mind and hold the politician to account.”