Nearly two hours of audio from internal Facebook meetings were recently leaked to the public.
The audio shows that behind closed doors Mark Zuckerberg is as defiant as ever toward attempts to limit his ambitions to control discourse online.
Facebook has had a good summer deflecting accountability. Facebook was able to get U.S. government regulators at the Federal Trade Commission to accommodate it through a slap on the wrist legal settlement.
While seemingly large in dollar figures at $5 billion, the settlement essentially allows Facebook to continue to abuse its customers’ data. The settlement was adopted on a party-line vote in a deeply divided FTC.
Facebook is the master at whitewash, sidestepping and avoiding responsibility when it abuses the goodwill of its users. FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra characterized the settlement this way: “The settlement’s $5 billion penalty makes for a good headline … But the terms and conditions, including blanket immunity for Facebook executives and no real restraints on Facebook’s business model, do not fix the core problems that led to these violations.”
Chopra’s comments are spot on — Facebook writes a check it can afford, but then it continues business as usual.
The leaked audio shows us just how usual the new business will be.
During the audio, Zuckerberg jokes that if he didn’t control the company, he would have clearly been fired by now. His special supervoting stock insulates him from accountability even from the shareholders of Facebook.
He is literally accountable to no one now that the government agency tasked with protecting American consumers from predatory trade practices has turned a blind eye.
Another dissenting FTC commissioner, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, said this after the settlement: “Rather than accepting this settlement, I believe we should have initiated litigation against Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg … When executives at large companies exercise control over decisions, including decisions to break the law, they should be held accountable the same way executives at smaller companies are.”
The leaked audio shows Zuckerberg learned nothing from the settlement and is ready to fight other attempts by U.S. government regulators to control his company’s bad behavior.
When asked about political leaders who want him to testify about his company, he flippantly said: “I’m not going to go to every single hearing around the world. A lot of different people want to do that. When the issues came up last year around Cambridge Analytica, I did hearings in the U.S. I did hearings in the EU. It just doesn’t really make sense for me to go to hearings in every single country that wants to have me show up.”
Looking to the future Zuckerberg sees the possibility of legal attempts to break up his social media monopoly, and he is prepared to dig in and fight: “I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge. And does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government. … But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.”
Facebook won’t likely get serious about protecting user privacy and stopping the online manipulation and aggressively abusive marketing to its users until governments get serious about holding the leadership of the company — and that means Zuckerberg — accountable for the outrageous abuse.
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