Mark Zuckerberg can’t decide what he wants.
At the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado on Tuesday, the Facebook CEO said that while his platform was doing its utmost to combat election meddling and misinformation, it was up to the U.S. government to take the lead in making sure that countries like Russia and Iran don’t interfere in elections, as the Kremlin successfully managed to do in 2016.
“We can defend as best we can, but our government is the one that has the tools to apply pressure to Russia, not us,” Zuckerberg said. “We’ve ramped up massively on the security side, but there’s very little that we can do on our own to change the incentives for nation states to act. That’s something that is a little bit above our pay grade.”
But at the same festival, during an interview with Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein, Zuckerberg bristled at the idea that Facebook was too big and needed to be broken up by the government — an idea which is becoming increasingly popular among many of the Democratic presidential candidates.
“The question that I think we have to grapple with is that breaking up these companies wouldn’t make any of these problems better,” Zuckerberg said. “The ability to work on election or content systems … we have an ability, now, because we’re a successful company and we’re large [enough] to be able to go build the systems that I think are unprecedented — in many cases, more sophisticated than any one a lot of governments have.”
Zuckerberg seemed to be tacitly admitting that the role of Facebook election security had spiraled beyond his control into the realm of geopolitics while also reassuring the public that Facebook had everything under control — no need for additional government regulation.
More broadly, Zuckerberg has repeatedly favored an incrementalist approach to regulation which puts his company in the driver’s seat. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal last year, Zuckerberg attempted to pre-empt the Honest Ads Act — which aims to prevent foreign interference in elections by forcing transparency in political advertising — by pointing out that Facebook had “already started rolling out ad transparency tools that accomplish most of the things that are in all the bills that people are talking about today.”
When government regulation is deemed too intrusive by Facebook, however, the company seems content ignoring it altogether. Last year, for instance, the European Union instituted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which gives individuals the right to delete information about them, and allows regulators to fine tech platforms up to 4% of their global revenue for privacy violations.
Despite Zuckerberg saying that he supported the act “in spirit,” Facebook promptly moved the responsibility for all non-U.S. and Canadian accounts — all 1.5 billion of them — back to California and out of the GDPR’s jurisdiction.
According to a report in March by The British Observer and Computer Weekly, which obtained leaked internal documents about the plan, Facebook also launched a massive, worldwide lobbying campaign to pre-empt or dissuade governments from launching any sort of overly ambitious regulation. Among other things, the documents showed the social media behemoth had targeted politicians around the globe, including one high-ranking official, whose child Facebook invited to tour their offices, as an incentive.