clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Mark Zuckerberg: ‘Freedom means you don’t have to ask for permission first’

Facebook’s ethos, and Facebook’s Russia problem, in one sentence.

Mark Zuckerberg Delivers Keynote Address At Facebook F8 Conference Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Mark Zuckerberg just laid out the steps Facebook is taking to make it harder for Russia, or anyone else who wants to meddle in future elections, from doing so.*

There’s a lot of stuff there, including a move to turn over ads that Russian sources bought during the last election cycle, and a promise to make sure it’s easier to find out who pays for political advertising, and what kind of ads they’re paying for throughout Facebook.

But in the speech Zuckerberg just delivered over his own Facebook page, he also explained why Facebook won’t ever be able to stamp out malicious or deceptive ads from Russians or anyone else. And, for that matter, why Facebook is always going to end up with stuff it finds distasteful or worse.

Live at HQ

Live discussing Russian election interference and our next steps to protect the integrity of the democratic process.

Dikirim oleh Mark Zuckerberg pada 21 September 2017

Here’s his full quote:

“I’m not going sit here and tell you that we’re going to catch all bad content in our system. We don’t check what people say before they say it, and frankly, I don’t think society should want us to. Freedom means you don’t have to ask for permission first, and by default, you can say what you want. And if you break our community standards, and you break the law, then you’re going to face consequences afterwards.”

Zuckerberg isn’t just spelling out a personal ethos (which I take at face value). He’s also spelling out Facebook’s business model and its legal underpinnings.

That is: Facebook only works as a giant, billion-person-plus business because it allows users and advertisers to upload whatever they want to its platform, without human intervention. And the fact that Facebook doesn’t vet people’s comments, ads or (almost) anything else before it goes up is also what gives it a great deal of legal protection, particularly in the U.S.: If there’s something unpleasant or illegal up on Facebook, it’s not because Facebook put it there — someone put it on Facebook.

This set-up isn’t unique to Facebook. All of the giant consumer platforms that have sprung out of Silicon Valley in the last decade or so work the same way: YouTube and Twitter don’t sign off on your comments or videos before you upload them, and Airbnb doesn’t vet you before you rent space in your house.

Up until now, that structure has created enormous value for both users and investors. And, per Zuckerberg’s comments, he doesn’t see the company making any profound changes in the underpinnings of its platform status.

Many people will be happy to hear him say that. But others will increasingly wonder if the platforms should be forced to take more responsibility for the stuff they distribute to billions of people, whether they like it or not.

* Remember when Mark Zuckerberg thought it was “crazy” to blame what happened on Facebook for last year’s election?

Read Zuckerberg’s full comments below:

I just went live a minute ago. Here’s what I said: Today is my first day back in the office after taking parental...

Dikirim oleh Mark Zuckerberg pada 21 September 2017

This article originally appeared on