Dick Costolo, ex-CEO of Twitter, has added his voice to the ongoing debate over whether or not social media companies have the right to fact-check information posted to their sites. Costolo pointed out on Twitter yesterday that, because of Facebook’s continually-fumbled fact-checking, the platform has become a breeding ground for dangerous misinformation and conspiracy theories.
Costolo, who led Twitter as CEO from 2010 to 2015, was referring to a recent Yahoo News survey of 1,640 Americans about believing conspiracy theories. The survey yielded alarming — though not surprising — results about how social media and biased news networks are furthering the spread of dangerous misinformation.
This isn’t the first time Costolo spoke up about the debate over fact-checking, but it is the first time he’s done so to such an overt extent. Yesterday he subtweeted about the situation:
Given the extremely high profile of this ongoing debate, it's likely we'll see more tech bigwigs speaking up in the near future.
Let’s talk about that conspiracy… — Costolo’s tweet references an alarmingly popular conspiracy that revolves around none other than Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. The widely debunked theory suggests that Gates is plotting to use a mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign as pretext for implanting billions of people with microchips to monitor their movements.
We already knew the theory had conspiracists going wild on the internet: between February and April, false statements about Gates appeared on television and social media more than 1.2 million times.
Zuck on Fox — The Yahoo News survey is important to understanding the Gates conspiracy because it reveals how pivotal conservative media has been in furthering the spread of this and other harmful misinformation. In the survey, half of the respondents that named Fox News as their primary television news source said they believe the Gates conspiracy theory.
This is important because Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently appeared on Fox News — the very network watched by believers of the Gates conspiracy — to once again defend his strong opinions about fact-checking on social media.
“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg said in the interview. “In general, private companies shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”
Expect more of this — Costolo’s siding with Twitter on the matter of fact-checking isn’t surprising, given his long reign at the company. If anything, it’s a sign we can expect a lot more discourse around the topic in the near future.
Already other high-ranking executives have joined in on the conversation; Zuckerberg’s old pal Cameron Winklevoss tried this morning to call supporters of fact-checking hypocritical for also supporting net neutrality.
This is only the beginning of this debate. As it moves forward, Facebook will be forced to reckon with its supposed ambivalence about the “truth” — an ambivalence that really amounts to giving peddlers of misinformation the go-ahead to continue posting harmful conspiracy theories.