LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Facebook is facing a storm of criticism after a New York Times investigation published this week. This is far from Facebook's first major controversy. The report said Facebook failed to crack down on Russian interference it was aware of in the 2016 election and that it attacked its critics using a PR firm that pushed negative stories and lobbied Congress to deflect blame. Facebook has pushed back, firing that PR firm and saying it did try to address Russian interference, albeit too slowly. Shira Ovide is a technology columnist at Bloomberg. And she's written about this latest Facebook firestorm. She joins us now from the Bloomberg offices. Welcome.
SHIRA OVIDE: Thank you very much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So your column this week carries the headline "Facebook's Leaders Didn't Get It And Still Don't." What don't they get and why?
OVIDE: The core problem at Facebook is that its leaders have a pattern of refusing any criticism, of obfuscating facts they don't like, denying problems until they're absolutely forced to confront them. And that's what we saw from the reporting this week. But again, this is not new for Facebook. Its entire history - it has fallen into this pattern.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What were Facebook's biggest mistakes in your view?
OVIDE: I think the biggest immediate mistake was it didn't take seriously this very real issue of misinformation and hate speech and hoaxes on the social network. The company always had this view that more information is the cure to bad information. And I think we've learned the last couple of years that that's not going to work. And so it was too slow, by its own admission, to recognize this particular problem of foreign-backed propaganda. And it's now grappling with that in addition to all of its other crises including, you know, hate speech inciting violence in Myanmar and India and just has this cascading set of failures that, again, all stem from the same set of core problems.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I mean, Facebook and - specifically its leadership - always want to present themselves as sort of the good guys, right? - that they're trying to bring people together, that this is a medium that is really about inclusion and having people's voices heard. And I want to focus on what Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said this week about a PR firm mentioned in The Times report. He said that he only learned about the firm through The Times story and that he immediately severed ties. What do you make of that explanation, that he knew nothing about it?
OVIDE: I believe him. But it's not a great explanation, right? - the New York Times article this week that talked about some of these aggressive PR tactics - doing things like having a firm that circulated to journalists information pointing to critics of Facebook and saying, you know what? - they may be backed by George Soros - isn't that nefarious? And Facebook had to know or should have known that that line of inquiry an attack would basically dredge up all these revolting, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Soros.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Facebook keeps saying and saying and saying and saying some more that they're on the case regarding misuse of their platform to spread hatred and disinformation and that they've been too slow to react. But they're working hard. They keep on talking about this. And your assessment - are they?
OVIDE: So they're doing better, for sure. They're doing better. But it still has a long way to go to repair the damage that Facebook has caused. And my issue is I still to this moment do not believe that the leadership at Facebook truly understands that they were the root of the problem. And look. I get what Facebook says, that when you connect more than 2 billion people around the world, you're going to see the good and the bad of humanity. But Facebook runs on attention. And, of course, attention demands people acting in sensational ways. It rewards sensational behavior. And that may be hate speech, pointing fingers at unpopular groups, including ethnic minorities. And so I just, to this moment, don't believe that Facebook has grappled with the downsides of this monster they created and then couldn't control.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to talk about Facebook itself and what should be done. And what are the responsibilities of companies that use their platform?
OVIDE: The regulatory question, I think, is very interesting. We saw in Europe they passed pretty aggressive data privacy laws that basically gave people a little bit more control about what kinds of information companies like Facebook can have or not have about people. And I think that may be a good blueprint for Washington lawmakers who are now looking at ways for national legislation that may put the handcuffs on Facebook and Google and other companies that have harvested vast amounts of our information and are basically keeping it for themselves in these walled gardens.
Right now, Facebook is in the permanent doghouse in Washington. And there is no way that they escape some kind of regulation. And I think Facebook executives acknowledge that. It's now just a matter of, what does the regulation look like? And how onerous is it for Facebook? And interestingly, we've seen both politicians on the left and on the right. United somewhat in their criticisms of Facebook.
OVIDE: Shira Ovide is a technology columnist of Bloomberg. Thank you so much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you very much.
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