Individual users, not tech platforms, shoulder the responsibility for the spread of misinformation online, according to Andrew Bosworth, a top exec at Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook.
In an interview over the weekend with Axios on HBO, Bosworth said it is not up to Meta to stifle the views of individuals who wish to express themselves by sharing their beliefs.
“The individual humans are the ones who choose to believe or not believe a thing; they’re the ones that choose to share or not to share a thing,” Bosworth told Axios’s Ina Fried in a snippet of the interview.
Pressed further on vaccine hesitancy and whether Meta may be contributing to it despite its efforts to provide authoritative information, Bosworth argued that in a democracy where people are free to speak their minds, people can choose to seek out whatever information they prefer.
“You have an issue with those people,” said Bosworth, according to Axios. “You don’t have an issue with Facebook. You can’t put that on me.”
The company has been accused by its critics of facilitating the spread of bogus health claims, climate change denialism and the lie that the 2020 election was stolen or illegitimate. Research has also shown that right-wing misinformation is far more engaging than misinformation from other sources.
In some contexts, Meta has moved to promote reliable information in users’ feeds. For example, the company has said it’s connected more than 2 billion people to trustworthy Covid-19 information through its portal on the topic, and in 2020 it used labels to inform people about news organizations’ projected election outcome.
But as the Delta variant of the coronavirus began accelerating worldwide this year, critics including President Joe Biden pointed out that continued vaccine hesitancy, driven by misinformation on social media, was contributing to the virus’s death toll.
In the Axios interview, Bosworth suggested that despite the accumulated knowledge of scientists, it is not possible for Meta to have enough of a grasp on what is factually true to be able to restrict user speech. “Our ability to know what is misinformation is itself in question, and I think reasonably so,” he said.
Bosworth takes over as Meta’s CTO next year. A longtime Facebook executive and a close confidant of CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Bosworth has vocally defended the company’s laser-like focus on growth as “justified” because its products connect people. He has also argued that the company’s algorithms are merely “exposing the desires of humanity itself, for better or for worse.”