Zuckerberg Responds to Sorkin’s Open Letter of Criticism

Yesterday we reported that Jack Dorsey announced Twitter would ban all political ads, placing pressure on Mark Zuckerberg to reconsider Facebook’s laissez-faire approach to such content. As the CEOs’ opposing philosophies are generating a great deal of media buzz, screenwriter and director Aaron Sorkin published an open letter to Zuckerberg, criticizing the chief executive for not doing his part to stop the spread of misinformation on the social network. In response, Zuckerberg used lines from the Sorkin-penned 1995 film “The American President” to essentially call Sorkin a hypocrite.

In yesterday’s ETCentric post, we noted Dorsey believes that manipulated videos and misinformation are creating challenges at an “overwhelming scale,” while Zuckerberg has taken a firm stand to allow all content, regardless of facts, since he strongly believes that Facebook was founded on freedom of expression.

Dorsey, on the other hand, believes that social networks have a larger responsibility, suggesting that the reach of political messages “should be earned, not bought.” Considering the power of social media today, he believes it is important to draw “a distinction between free speech and paid speech.”

Meanwhile, even some Facebook employees have pushed for change, and Elizabeth Warren recently accused Zuckerberg of running a “disinformation-for-profit machine.”

As editorials appear in support of either Dorsey or Zuckerberg, Aaron Sorkin wrote an open letter to Zuckerberg that was published in The New York Times. Sorkin used Zuckerberg’s disappointment in the 2010 film “The Social Network” to frame his criticism.

“It was hard not to feel the irony while I was reading excerpts from your recent speech at Georgetown University, in which you defended — on free speech grounds — Facebook’s practice of posting demonstrably false ads from political candidates,” wrote Sorkin.

“I admire your deep belief in free speech,” he added. “But this can’t possibly be the outcome you and I want, to have crazy lies pumped into the water supply that corrupt the most important decisions we make together. Lies that have a very real and incredibly dangerous effect on our elections and our lives and our children’s lives.”

Sorkin points out that, “over 40 percent of Americans said they got news from Facebook,” a significant concern when the platform features ads such as one claiming “Joe Biden gave the Ukrainian attorney general a billion dollars not to investigate his son.” 

“The law hasn’t been written yet — yet — that holds carriers of user-generated Internet content responsible for the user-generated content they carry, just like movie studios, television networks and book, magazine and newspaper publishers,” wrote Sorkin.

Zuckerberg responded directly to the letter with Sorkin’s own words from “The American President,” reports Business Insider. The CEO posted on Facebook: “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say: You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

The lines were taken from a speech “near the end of the movie, given by Michael Douglas to a room full of reporters in the White House’s West Wing,” explains BI. “In the speech, Douglas passionately details the nuances of defending free speech in the United States.” 

“You want to claim this land as the land of the free?” Douglas asks. “Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.”