The social media mogul talked about the double-edged sword of Facebook Live, the lack of diversity in the tech industry and whether he’s interested in running for president at a town hall at NC A&T University on Monday.
Facebook has struggled to strike the right balance on community standards and fake news, but cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg displayed no hesitation in discussing his feelings about the use of the social media platform to share live videos of interactions between citizens and police.
“I feel great,” he said during a town hall at NC A&T University in Greensboro on Monday. “I mean, look, we believe a lot in transparency and giving people a voice. And if we’re not going to give them body cameras we’ll give everyone a live camera. Transparency is a lot about what Facebook is about — giving people a voice and putting power in people’s hands and giving everyone a voice to share what’s important. There’s certainly a lot of injustice, that you’ve talked about it and a lot of people deny it. You put it on camera and they can’t deny it anymore. There’s something really powerful about that.”
Zuckerberg spoke to about 200 students and invited guests. The media was not granted access to the event itself, but journalists were allowed to watch a simulcast from an auditorium that was used as an overflow room.
Kani Bynum, a student organizer from Charlotte who is majoring in public relations, gushed about Zuckerberg’s message after the town hall.
“It gave us insight on the way that the future is going to go,” he said. “Power to the people creates peace. I see more unity going forward. I think it’s beautiful the way he’s giving power back to the people.”
Bynum said the social media platform’s Facebook Live streaming video app is an especially powerful tool, noting that police accountability activists used it after the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott in September 2016 to show instances of alleged excessive force that helped shape media coverage of the protests.
Bynum was recording when another protester, Justin Carr, was fatally shot as police in riot gear massed to protect the Omni hotel in Charlotte’s center city on the second night of protests. From the beginning, the police contended that Carr was shot by another civilian.
“That was not true,” Bynum said. “I got it on Facebook Live. The police shot the protester. It was not another protester.”
Multiple media accounts cite various sources, including pastors and lawyers who were on the scene, as saying they witnessed the police shoot Carr, but the police said they pieced together citizen video with surveillance video from nearby buildings to identity a man named Rayquan Borum as the shooter. Borum has been indicted for murder and authorities say he confessed to the shooting.
Public video posted online captures the sound of gunshots and the aftermath of the shooting, but does not definitively show who is responsible. Some segments of the community continue to insist that Borum’s confession was coerced and that he is being framed from Carr’s murder. Bynum, the A&T student who said he recorded the incident, has a Facebook account on a private setting and did not respond to requests to view the video.
Zuckerberg, who addressed the students in his trademark T-shirt and jeans ensemble, acknowledged there’s a darker side to the Live app.
“There are different examples of people showing something bad that’s happening in the world, there are also people who use Live as a tool for broadcasting bad things that they’re doing,” he said. “There are examples of people committing crimes and live-streaming that and getting to a large scale. That is something that I don’t feel good about, right, and that I think we have a responsibility to not allow.
“If someone broadcasts themselves committing a crime and gets a lot of people watching that, we don’t want that to be an example that other people watching see and say, ‘Hey I could get a lot of people watching, too, if I go steal a car and go make a live video of myself doing it,’” the 32-year-old tech billionaire entrepreneur continued. “There are examples that are really sad. There was a girl a couple weeks ago who live-streamed committing suicide. It’s terrible. One of the questions that we were struggling with afterwards is we have all these tools on Facebook to make it so that if you see someone who needs help, you can reach out to them and give them help or you can call 911 or reach out to community hotlines to get them the support. One of the big reflections — and I spent a lot of time with our management asking this question of: ‘Why didn’t anyone who saw this, say something?’”
Zithobile Nxumalo, a doctoral candidate in leadership studies, asked Zuckerberg what he intends to do about the lack of diversity in the tech industry and what advice he would give to “us as minorities to strategically navigate the entrepreneurial world so that we can be included.”
Zuckerberg responded that the responsibility for cultivating a diverse workforce falls on tech firms as opposed to job applicants, adding that companies that value diversity need to make it a priority.
“If you want diversity, you better have specific teams that focus on diversity,” he said. He also emphasized the importance of addressing unconscious bias.
“We do this really rigorous training for every manager at Facebook,” he said. “You have to go through and understand what your unconscious biases are because I think a lot of people — the research shows this really clearly — a lot of people [that] think that they care about diversity actually have a lot of these biases.”
Zuckerberg’s advice for young people of color who want to work in tech, especially at schools like A&T with a strong engineering focus, was simple.
“There’s a really clear dynamic in the world right now where there’s way more demand for engineers than there are engineers,” he said, “so if you just really focus on doing the best work that you can then there’s a lot of opportunity out there.”
Zuckerberg has embarked on a 30-state tour as part of what he called an effort “to get out of my bubble in San Francisco.” As part of an effort to understand how Facebook fits into a new paradigm of global community, he’s visiting people like far-flung oyster farmers in Louisiana to learn how they’re using social media to more effectively market their product. The tour has led to speculation that Zuckerberg is exploring a run for president in 2020.
The final question at the A&T town hall went to a young woman, identified as a former Facebook intern, who asked, “Do you have any plans and intentions for running for president possibly with other innovators such as Kanye West, who has expressed interest in running as well?”
Zuckerberg got one thing out of the way first: “I don’t think that Kanye is going to be at the bottom of anyone’s ticket.”
As to Zuckerberg’s own plans and intentions, he said the answer is no.
“One of the things that I think is a little funny is to do these trips and go around and meet folks, people say, ‘Oh, he’s trying to meet people — he must immediately be trying to run for office,’” he said. “It’s like, ‘What? The rest of what I do isn’t important or relevant? There’s no reason for me to actually understand people?’ We’re kind of building a community here — it’s not that small. It’s good.”