What Facebook's internal documents reveal about the company
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We are finding out more this morning about the decision-making inside what is arguably the world's biggest and most powerful social media company, Facebook. According to The Washington Post, internal documents show that CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally approved a decision to censor groups or individuals in Vietnam who were critical of that government. This is just one of a string of revelations to come from documents leaked by a whistleblower. Facebook, we should note, is among NPR's financial supporters. Joining me now is Tory Newmyer of The Washington Post, who wrote about the Vietnam decision. Tory, thanks for being here.
TORY NEWMYER: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Let me get this straight. The government in Vietnam demanded that Facebook crack down on political dissenters. And Facebook complied?
NEWMYER: They did. So they were faced, essentially, with a choice. The company could either knuckle under to these demands from the ruling Communist Party there ahead of their elections to moderate content, remove speech that was critical of the government or risk getting knocked offline in one of the most important markets overseas for the company. And the company chose to work with the government. I guess that's the nice way of saying it. But essentially, they agreed to censor posts there from anti-government dissidents.
MARTIN: But this does run counter to what Zuckerberg says about Facebook's mission - right? - that it's supposed to enable free speech in the U.S. but around the world.
NEWMYER: Exactly. I mean, that's what's so striking about this is that he is so aggressive in defending free speech here and uses it in the United States to justify vetoing all sorts of content moderation suggested even internally inside Facebook. And critics say that's allowed hate speech and other harmful content to spread on the platform in the United States. He said in Vietnam he used - he pointed to free speech again, and he said, well, it'd be better, essentially, to agree to this censorship and allow the platform to stay up rather than risk getting Facebook removed from the internet in the country entirely.
MARTIN: Is it surprising that this kind of decision would fall to someone so high up on the food chain as Mark Zuckerberg?
NEWMYER: I think so. But what we've learned through these documents and also through our own reporting is that he is really a micromanager. And so decisions large and small, he is frequently involving himself in stuff that is seemingly sort of picayune as - he personally chose the colors that the company used for their I-got-vaccinated frames for user profile pictures.
MARTIN: And it's not easy. If it were ever to come to a decision to try to change the leadership structure, I mean, he owns most of the shares. The board ultimately replies - responds to him.
NEWMYER: It is an unprecedented situation with a company of this size for a guy to be the CEO, the chairman of the board and to own a controlling stake in the voting shares of the company. He really has total control.
MARTIN: The Securities and Exchange Commission, financial regulator for stocks, has been asked to look into Facebook in light of these documents. Is any change likely to come from this?
NEWMYER: We will see. The SEC is a black box when it comes to these investigations. They don't tell us what they're doing until potentially years from now. So we're going to be waiting potentially for a long time to see what the regulator does.
MARTIN: Tory Newmyer of the Washington Post, thank you.
NEWMYER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.