Highlights from Mark Zuckerberg’s Town-Hall Q&A in Bogotá

By David Cohen 

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Why did Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg address the terrorist attack on the Paris offices of satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo earlier this month, but not discuss similar events from other parts of the world? That was just one of the questions he fielded during his first international town-hall question and answer session, which was held Wednesday at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia.

Zuckerberg has held two previous town-hall Q&A sessions, Dec. 11 and Nov. 6, both at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

A video of the full Q&A session is available here and embedded below, and highlights follow.

On the question of why Zuckerberg spoke out about the Charlie Hebdo attack, he said:

All of these terrorist events are terrible, and I don’t think it should take me or anyone else speaking on that to be very clear globally that all of these different attacks going on around the world are just really bad, terrible and horrible for different societies, horrible for peace in the world. We really need to do whatever we can as a society to try to prevent that.

There are certain topics that I speak about, mostly things that are related to Facebook’s mission in some capacity and our efforts to connect the world and give everyone a voice. That’s why these attacks in France were especially relevant, I thought, for me to speak about, because it wasn’t just a terrorist attack about just trying to do some damage and make people afraid and hurt people: This was specifically about people’s freedom of expression and ability to say what they want. This specific attack was an attack to silence someone who had said something that offended someone else.

A lot of what Facebook is doing in the world is we’re trying to connect the world and we’re trying to give everyone a voice. There are lots of different things that can stand in the way of you having a voice and the freedom to express whatever you want. A government can pass a law blocking you from saying something. You can just not have the tools that you need in order to express what you want — if you don’t have the Internet, then it’s hard to post on the Internet, obviously. If you don’t have a good camera, it’s hard to post photos, even if you technically have the right to do so.

Even if the laws allow you to share something and you have the tools to do so, if we live in a society of fear, where if you then exercise your right and your ability to speak, and you live in fear that you’re going to get hurt because some extremist somewhere is going to not like what you say and might take that out on you and hurt you or kill you or your family, then that’s not freedom of expression, either.

And that really gets to the core of what Facebook and the Internet are, I think, and what we’re all here to do. We really want to stand up and try to make it so that everyone can have as much of a voice as possible. There are limits and restrictions on these things, but across the board, what we generally are always trying to fight for is to have as many people share as much as they want.

This event just seemed like an event where people needed to come together not only to fight back against terrorism — which is the response, I think, every time there’s a terrorist attack anywhere in the world — but also to stand up for giving everyone in the world a voice and people’s right to give as many people as possible the ability to share as many things as possible.

That’s why I spoke on this one, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel very strongly about the other terrorist attacks. They’re all terrible, and we need to come together as a society and a community and try to stop it.

Zuckerberg was also asked to name something that he believes about Facebook but that other people might not necessarily agree with, and he replied:

I think the biggest thing that I believe that people might disagree or not give us credit for is that we really care about our community and our mission. When I was starting Facebook, I wasn’t thinking about it as a business. I wanted to connect the people in my community around me, and when that worked, I started expanding it and tried to connect more and more people. To this day, that really is the thing that drives me. Our culture at the company is just all about connecting the world and giving everyone a voice.

One of the things that makes me sad when I read it is when people interpret our actions through the lens of, “Oh, they’re just trying to do that to make money,” or, “They’re just trying to do that to do something related to business.” That actually isn’t how we actually think about the world. We get it all the time.

For example, Internet.org, one of the questions people ask is, “Is this just a way for you to get more people on Facebook?” I can promise you that if what I cared about was making more money, I would take the engineers and the people who are working on Internet.org and spreading connectivity around the world and have them go work on our ads products. We don’t do that because we believe in connecting everyone around the world. That’s why we’re here. This is our mission.

If I could snap my fingers and convince people of one thing I’ve had a hard time doing the past 10 years, it’s probably that.

Zuckerberg also took a subtle poke at Google Glass when he was asked what he thought Facebook would look like 10 years from now:

I think there are a few different big trends over the next 10 years that are going to shape how we all connect and share. The first one, which we’re talking about with Internet.org, is that way more people can be on the Internet. Now, about one-third of the world is on the Internet. I would really hope that by 10 years from now, I don’t know, the vast majority of people, more than two-thirds of people, should be on the Internet. That won’t happen if we don’t push on it and work on that specifically. The Internet is actually growing at a slower rate than you would think for how much it defines a lot of parts of modern life. I hope that in 10 years from now, when we’re here, the vast majority of people around the world are on the Internet, which I think will change a lot of aspects of how people communicate around the world by itself.

Then, the tools that people use to communicate will also be different. Right now, we have News Feed, so you can broadcast something out to all of your friends, or communicate it in public. You have groups, so you can maintain smaller group connections for your family, or classes that you’re in, or smaller groups of friends. You have messaging, which is huge. WhatsApp is extremely well-used, and messaging on Facebook and text messaging — people send billions and billions of messages per day. It’s such an important piece of communication tool that people are using.

I think what you’re going to see 10 years out, there are just going to be even more tools like this. The diversity of the ways that people want to share, the moments that people want to communicate and the tools that people need to stay connected are going to keep growing.

Maybe Facebook you could say a few years ago was the only big social company, but I think in the future, there are going to be a bunch of companies that are doing great work. Facebook will evolve to build a lot of these great products ourselves. We have the Facebook product. We also have Messenger, and WhatsApp joined us, and Instagram joined us, and groups is a big product. There are going to be a lot of things like that, which I think are each going to be big, important new ways that people are sharing.

The third thing that you mentioned is new platforms. 10 to 15 years ago, the primary way that people were connecting to the Internet or using computing devices was on computers. They sat at a desktop, maybe you had a laptop computer, but it was a computer. Now, mobile phones are clearly the main way that we all communicate, but they will not be the last way that we do computing.

In another 10 to 15 years, I think you can imagine that there will be another platform that is even more natural and even more built into our lives than mobile phones are. Just like you couldn’t carry around a computer, and now you have a phone in your pocket, and you can use it pretty frequently, I think it’s pretty easy to imagine that in the future, we will have something that either we can wear, maybe to look just like normal glasses, so it won’t look weird, like some of the stuff that exists today, and you’ll just be able to have context about what’s going on around you in the world, and communicate with people and not have to disrupt your conversations by looking down, or be interruptive, and I think that’s going to be really powerful.

It’s going to take a while to get there. You guys all remember: The first mobile phones were terrible. And that’s kind of the stage that we’re at now with virtual reality and augmented reality. It’s just at an extremely early stage, and the early stuff is very rough still. I think that’s going to be a really important trend, and if we look back — I don’t know if it’s going to be another 10 years, or 15, or 20 — but there will be another platform after computers that becomes the primary computing platform. We’re really excited to build that, as well.

We’re working on that with Oculus VR, which is I think by far the leader in virtual reality at this point, and it’s going to be very exciting to see how this develops.

Readers: What would you like to see Zuckerberg discuss at his next town-hall Q&A?

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