In a recent interview with MSNBC, Apple CEO Tim Cook slammed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for his handling of the private data of his users. Facebook’s recent turmoil comes at the hands of a whistleblower from a data firm named Cambridge Analytica, who announced that the company had improperly seized the data of over 50 million Facebook users to influence the 2016 presidential election.
“We do carefully review every app…and we don’t subscribe to the view that you have to let everybody in that wants to, or if you don’t, you don’t believe in free speech. We don’t believe that.”
Cook’s comments ring especially true in the digital age when media companies are asked to make tough choices about who to allow on their sites. Twitter experienced this when they received a deluge of requests to shut down President Trump’s account after he used their platform to tiptoe toward nuclear war by taunting Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s famously unstable dictator.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
The company’s only response was that they “review tweets by leaders within the political context that defines them, and enforce our rules accordingly.”
Twitter still receives plenty of complaints about the way that it handles its verified badges, including giving one to a woman who accused model Chrissy Teigen of being a pedophile.
Tim Cook is also speaking in a social context where the term “free speech” is broadly used and misapplied. The concept of “free speech” is often weaponized by conservatives to neutralize debates or give cover for abhorrent views, because it’s easier to argue about someone’s right to say something than judge that content on its merits.
“Maher was warned repeatedly that Milo had nothing to offer but his half-baked and vapid ruminations on how X group is destroying America, and he still booked and aired him on his show, citing himself as a defender of “free speech.” (Remind me again where it says that your free speech rights are abridged if you don’t get free publicity from a popular late-night show?)”
When asked about what he would do if he were Mark Zuckerberg, Cook responded:
“Well, I wouldn’t be in this situation.”
The conversation around Facebook is raging, complete with hashtags to #DeleteFacebook. A new explosive internal memo shows that top-level executives understand the reach Facebook has the promises it makes and the possible collateral damage therein. For example, according to Slate, 18% of Americans get their news from Facebook, and it looks like the number is growing.
What Tim Cook appears to be saying is that tech companies will very soon have to start asking hard questions about their role in this new world.