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Big Tech faces backlash

Katie Harbath

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JOYCE: BIG TECH IS FACING A BACKLASH. YOU’LL REMEMBER HOW TWITTER BANNED FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP AFTER THE JANUARY 6 ATTACK ON THE CAPITOL. FACEBOOK ALSO SUSPENDED HIM INDEFINITELY. NOW SEVERAL STATES ARE CONSIDERING LAWS TO PENALIZE BIG TECH FOR WHAT THE STATES CALL CENSORSHIP. WE’RE TAKING A LOOK AT THE INTERSECTION OF POLITICS, FREE SPEECH, AND SOCIAL MEDIA WITH A GREEN BAY NATIVE WHO WORKED FOR FACEBOOK. KATIE HARBATH IS A UW-MADISON GRAD WHO WAS A PUBLIC POLICY DIRECTOR AT FACEBOOK FOR A DECADE. SHE’S SPEAKING WEDNESDAY AT AN EVENT WITH UW’S LAFOLLETE SCHOOL OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS AND SHE JOINS US NOW ON “UPFRONT,” THANK YOU FOR BEING WITH US. SO MUCH ATTENTION BEING PAID TO THIS ISSUE, BUT AT ITS CORE, ISN’T IT BIG TECH SILENCING VIEWPOINTS?

MS. HARBATH: THAT IS THE STRUGGLE AND WHAT SOCIETY IS TRYING TO GRAPPLE WITH ABOUT WHAT IS THE BALANCE BETWEEN MAKING SURE PEOPLE HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK AND SHARE THEIR VIEWPOINTS ON THE ISSUES, BUT THEN WHERE THAT SPEECH COULD POTENTIALLY HAVE HARMS. THE REAL DEBATE WE ARE HAVING IS BOTH AROUND WHAT ARE THOSE POLICIES THE DIFFERENT TECH COMPANIES HAVE ABOUT WHAT SPEECH OR IS NOT ACCEPTABLE AND HOW THEY DO ENFORCE THOSE AND WHO GETS TO MAKE THOSE DECISIONS.

JOYCE: WHY DID BIG TECH GET RELIGION NOW? THE JANUARY 6 ATTACK?

MS. HARBATH: A LOT OF THE THINGS IN THE LEAD UP TO WHAT DID HAPPEN ON JANUARY 6. AT FACEBOOK, WE HAD BEEN GRAPPLING WITH THESE ISSUES FOR SOME TIME. THE ELECTION OF 2016 WAS A TURNING POINT WHEN LOOKING AT THE DIFFERENT WAYS THAT SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE INTERNET CAN BE WEAPONIZED, WHETHER IT BE BY FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS OR EVEN PEOPLE WITHIN THE COUNTRY, AND WE HAVE BEEN GRAPPLING WITH HOW TO SOLVE THOSE PROBLEMS EVER SINCE AND THEY WILL CONTINUE HERE EVEN AFTER JANUARY 6.

JOYCE: WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THE CLAIM THAT TECH GIANTS BENEFITED THAT MISINFORMATION BECAUSE IT WAS BENEFICIAL TO THEM? — TOLERATED THAT MISINFORMATION BECAUSE IT WAS BENEFICIAL TO THEM?

MS. HARBATH: I DO NOT THINK IT WAS. THEY HAVE TAKEN A REPUTATIONAL HIT ON IT. PEOPLE ON TECH PLATFORMS DO NOT WANT THIS. IT GETS TRICKY WHEN YOU TRY TO DEFINE SOME OF THIS AND START TO THINK ABOUT WHAT THE PENALTIES SHOULD BE AROUND SPREADING MISINFORMATION AND ALSO HOW YOU DEFINE IT. I REALLY DO NOT THINK THAT IT IS NECESSARILY ABOUT MAKING MORE MONEY, BUT IT IS REALLY TRYING TO FIND THAT BALANCE BETWEEN FREE EXPRESSION AND SPEECH THAT CAN BE HARMFUL.

JOYCE: THERE’S THIS OTHER POINT THAT WHEN BIG TECH BANDS A POLITICIAN — BIG TECH BANSD A POLITICIAN, THAT DOES NOT GO AWAY, IT JUST GOES OTHER PLACES. WHAT DOES THIS DEPLATFORMING DO?

MS. HARBATH: THAT IS ONE OF THE BIG QUESTIONS OUT THERE NOW ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT THE DEPLATFORMING SHOULD BE PERMANENT, OF PRESIDENT TRUMP. FACEBOOK HAS SET UP AN EXTERNAL OVERSIGHT BOARD OF 20 EXPERTS. IT WILL GO UP TO 40 WORLDWIDE, CONSIDERING THAT QUESTION RIGHT NOW, OF WHETHER PRESIDENT TRUMP SHOULD BE UP DESK SHOULD BE ALLOWED BACK ON THE PLATFORM. SHOULD IT REALLY BE PEOPLE LIKE MARK ZUCKERBERG AND JACK DORSEY TO MAKE THESE DECISIONS?

JOYCE: AND HOW DO YOU ENSURE THAT WHEN YOU CLEAR AWAY THE DISINFORMATION, THERE WILL BE TRUTH BEHIND IT?

MS. HARBATH: RIGHT. A LOT OF IT IS CLEANING UP THE OVERALL MEDIA ECOSYSTEM FOR PEOPLE. THERE HAVE BEEN SO MANY OPTIONS FOR THEIR ATTENTION AND THEIR TIME, WHERE THEY ARE GETTING INFORMATION, AND WE NEED TO CONTINUE TO THINK ABOUT NEW WAYS TO HELP PEOPLE TO FILTER THROUGH THAT AND NOT JUST BE GETTING THE VIEWPOINTS REINFORCING THEIR OWN, BUT GETTING A VARIETY OF VIEWPOINTS. THEY ARE TRYING TO MAKE DECISIONS ABOUT WHO THEY ARE VOTING FOR.

JOYCE: WE HAVE TALKED ABOUT CERTAIN STATE LEGISLATURES CONTEMPLATING LEGISLATION ON THIS FRONT. DO YOU ANTICIPATE MORE OF THAT?

MS. HARBATH: WE ARE SEEING LEGISLATION AROUND THE WORLD OF GOVERNMENTS LOOKING AT DIFFERENT SOLUTIONS TO THIS. THERE IS ACTIVE LEGISLATION BEING CONSIDERED IN EUROPE RIGHT NOW. YOU MENTIONED TO QUITE A FEW STATES ARE LOOKING AT IT AS WELL AS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS, WE ARE GOING TO SEE A LOT OF LEGISLATION AND REGULATION DEBATED AND INTRODUCED AROUND THESE ISSUES.

JOYCE: KATIE HARBATH, THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOUR INSIGHT TODAY ON “UPFRONT.”

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