Facebook, Twitter, YouTube Execs Discuss Their Role In Threat To Democracy At Stanford Forum

By Julia Prodis Sulek
The Mercury News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) While the executives of the big three tech companies have all talked about increasing transparency and authenticity. They all acknowledge that nothing is foolproof against misinformation.

PALO ALTO, Calif.

As executives from Silicon Valley’s social media giants, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, gathered Thursday at a Stanford University forum to discuss their roles in spreading conspiracy theories, hate speech and fake news, the problems were clear. The solutions, however, weren’t.

“Our industry was too slow to wake up to this threat,” said Facebook’s Vice President of Public Policy Elliot Schrage. “It’s not does it happen, it’s how you manage it. All of us in the digital sphere, particularly Facebook, have a long way to go to strike that digital balance.”

The forum discussing free speech in the social media age, sponsored by the National Constitution Center, comes at a critical point in internet history, when the Russian government used social media to help sway the U.S. presidential election, when Americans are increasingly polarized over politics and are finding havens in digital echo chambers and when misinformation is rampant.

“This is not your fault, but this is your responsibility,” said Larry Kramer, former dean of the Stanford Law school who moderated the forum in a university amphitheater filled with students, professors and members of the public. “Should they do more and can they do better is the question out on the table.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg already faced some of these questions before Congress last month and acknowledged his company has been slow to address the scope of the problem. Also last month, YouTube headquarters in San Bruno was the scene of a shocking attack when a woman, upset that YouTube was censoring some of her animal cruelty videos and impinging on her free speech rights, wounded three YouTube employees before shooting herself in the company courtyard.

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