Facebook bosses are 'morally bankrupt pathological liars' - Privacy Commissioner John Edwards

The Privacy Commissioner has launched a stinging attack on Facebook, calling its bosses "morally bankrupt pathological liars who enable genocide".

John Edwards has been heavily critical of the social media giant since the Christchurch attacks three weeks ago, but his latest words are perhaps his toughest yet.

"They are morally bankrupt pathological liars who enable genocide (Myanmar), facilitate foreign undermining of democratic institutions," he wrote on Twitter.

"[They] allow the livestreaming of suicides, rapes, and murders, continue to host and publish the mosque attack video, allow advertisers to target 'Jew haters' and other hateful market segments, and refuse to accept any responsibility for any content or harm.

"They #DontGiveAZuck," he closed the tweets, using a shortened version of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's name in place of a profanity.

Edwards' comments come after Zuckerberg said Facebook wouldn't be making any changes to its livestreaming service, Facebook Live, which the gunman used to broadcast the atrocity.

He wouldn't even compromise by putting a delay on live broadcasts, so objectionable content - as the Chief Censor has deemed the gunman's video - can be potentially stopped before it's made public, in a manner similar to mainstream commercial broadcasters.

"It would fundamentally break what livestreaming is for people," Zuckerberg told ABC's Good Morning America last week.

"Most people are livestreaming, you know, a birthday party or hanging out with friends when they can't be together. It's one of the things that's magical about livestreaming is that it's bi-directional, right? So you're not just broadcasting. You're communicating. And people are commenting back. So if you had a delay, that would break that."

John Edwards.
John Edwards. Photo credit: Newshub.

NZME business writer Chris Keall on Sunday said there was a "glaring flaw" in Zuckerberg's argument.

"What Zuckerberg is describing is video chat," he wrote. "Anyone with even a passing degree of familiarity with tech these days knows you can video chat to a set group of family or friends to share a birthday moment or similar with friends and family afar in a two-way experience. It doesn't need to be broadcast to all-comers a la Facebook Live."

Zuckerberg last week also said "bad actors" are trying to "get around" systems Facebook has in place. Edwards took umbrage with this.

"They actually didn't have any systems to detect the events in Christchurch," he told RNZ on Monday morning. "I found his comments pretty disingenuous."

Why this is the Privacy Commissioner's fight

Edwards has taken up the fight against Facebook because he says the victims' rights to privacy were violated by having their murders broadcast to the world in real-time.

"[Zuckerberg] can't actually tell us, or won't tell us, how many suicides are livestreamed, how many murders, how many sexual assaults," said Edwards. "I asked Facebook exactly that last week, and they simply don't have those figures or won't give them to us."

With more than 2 billion users worldwide, Facebook is a whale and New Zealand is a very small fish. The company is worth more than 2.5 years of New Zealand's entire gross domestic product, and Zuckerberg was ranked 13th-most powerful person in the world last year by Forbes. No New Zealander made the top 75.

Edwards says it would be very difficult on our own to force change.

"This is a global problem. The events that were livestreamed in Christchurch could happen anywhere in the world.

"It's a problem that governments need to come together and force the platforms to find a solution for. And it may be that regulating, as Australia has done just in the last week, would be a good interim way to get their attention and say, 'Unless you can demonstrate the safety of these services, you simply can't use them.'"

Mark Zuckerberg.
Mark Zuckerberg. Photo credit: Reuters

Facebook gets away with it, he says, because it adheres to US law.

"The Communications Decency Act in the US... says if you are a platform, a carrier, you have no liability for the content. But I think what we're seeing around the world is a pushback on that."

In an opinion piece written for the Washington Post earlier last week, Zuckerberg argued it might be time for governments to come up with international rules on social media, so individual private companies weren't making "so many important decisions about speech on our own".

Australia has since introduced legislation to fine companies if violent material isn't removed quickly, and Reuters reported on Monday (NZ time) the UK is considering similar reforms. 

Facebook has also said it'll be taking a tougher stance on white nationalist and separatist content, considering them a stepping stone to full-on white supremacism.


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