Zuckerberg Q&A Session in Bogota Columbia
By Paul Liu
Tuesday, February 24th, 2015
Mark Zuckerberg recently participated in an hour long Q&A session in the Colombian capital Bogota. Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer was visiting the country to promote his latest venture “Internet.org” which is a non-profit organization that aims to provide affordable internet access in developing countries. During the hour long session, Zuckerberg answered a range of questions including some related to free speech and online privacy.
The first question was related to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. When asked why he chose to condemn the recent attack but was silent on similar events happening in other parts of the world, Zuckerberg said that the attacks in France were important as they were specifically about freedom of expression. He said that the attacks were aimed at silencing people who had chosen to express themselves and also added that people should never have to live in an environment where they are afraid of saying or writing something. Facebook tries to give everyone a voice and the ability to share things, the very things that terrorists aimed to silence, which is why he thought that it was important to speak against the attacks.
The next question was related to Facebook’s decision to operate in countries where there are severe restrictions against freedom of speech. Zuckerberg defended the company’s presence in Middle East, Russia and elsewhere by saying that the company analyzes all requests to censor content and tries to push them as much as possible. He also added that the company tries not to violate laws of any country since getting banned or blocked would not help to change laws of that country.
Stressing that it is important for Facebook to continue operations even in countries where there are laws against free speech, he said that being operational helps people to connect to each other and helps them to express themselves as much as possible. He also claimed that by helping people from a censorship prone country to communicate with each other, the company is in fact encouraging the people to change their society. Zuckerberg also said that the decision to operate in such countries was not related to the bottom line of the company in any way. He said that the Facebook platform was already blocked in many countries and it can survive bans in many more countries.
Zuckerberg’s answer clearly demonstrates the dilemma facing the internet companies while operating in countries that do not guarantee freedom of expression. Since developing countries offer tremendous growth opportunities to online platforms, companies like Facebook have no option but to give in to the demands of the local authorities. However, it also cannot be denied that Facebook provides a useful platform for healthy discussions and allows people who are used to free speech restrictions and censorship in their day to day lives to communicate with citizens from other countries. Having such a platform in a censorship prone country is absolutely essential since it could lead to change in the mindset of people and may very well usher in the reforms within the country.