Cicilline grills Zuckerberg on coronavirus misinformation: This is ‘about Facebook’s business model’


Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the chairman of the House antitrust subcommittee, on Wednesday confronted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the spread of misinformation on the platform, questioning whether the company was doing enough to suppress unfounded claims about the coronavirus pandemic. 

During a subcommittee hearing focused on the emerging size and power of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, Cicilline pointed to a video posted on multiple social media platforms on Monday that featured false claims about the coronavirus outbreak. While the video was eventually taken down by Facebook and others, Cicilline noted that it wasn’t before it had racked up roughly 20 million views in the course of five hours. 

“Doesn’t that suggest that your platform is so big that even with the right policies in place, you can’t contain deadly content?” Cicilline asked. 

Zuckerberg pushed back, arguing that Facebook has a “good track record” when it comes to policing misinformation, including on topics related to the current health crisis. 

Facebook has faced continued scrutiny over its efforts to moderate misinformation and hate speech on its platform. The company is currently the subject of an ad boycott that demands it take greater steps to manage hate speech and other incendiary content on the site. 

Cicilline questioned whether the incentives of Facebook and which posts it amplifies were responsible for this environment. After Zuckerberg said that he did not believe Facebook had incentives to have harmful content on its platform, the Democratic congressman shot back that it’s “often the most engaging.”

“It brings the most likes or it brings the most activity, which of course brings a great profit. The more engagement you create, the more money you make on advertising,” Cicilline said.

“With all due respect, the problem is Facebook is profiting off and amplifying disinformation that harms others because it’s profitable,” Cicilline added. “This isn’t a speech issue. It’s about Facebook’s business model that prioritizes engagement in order to keep people on Facebook’s platform.”

Zuckerberg rejected accusations that false and harmful content economically benefit the company. 

“We rank what we show in our feed based on what is going to be the most meaningful to people and is going to create long-term satisfaction, not what’s just going to get clicks or engagement,” Zuckerberg said, calling it a “misperception” that Facebook is only concerned with clicks and reactions. 

Facebook Policy Communications Director Andy Stone said in a statement to The Hill earlier this week that the platform removed a video about the coronavirus because it shared “false information about cures and treatments for COVID-19.” The company has also said that it’s reviewing why it took hours for the post to be removed.

Tags antitrust Coronavirus COVID-19 David Cicilline Facebook Mark Zuckerberg Mark Zuckerberg misinformation Social media

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